As far as learning something new goes, I think I’ve expressed a lot on how much I have learned from the interviews. Each military member I have interviewed has such an inspirational story. All of them came to the service in their own way and made their career something to remember. This interview was done with Staff Sergeant Alfonso Deines. I hope you enjoy it!
Staff Sergeant Alfonso Deines
United States Marine Corps
Staff Sergeant Deines has served 17 years active duty in the USMC. His story is definitely full with success and fulfillment. Currently he is filling the position as a recruiter in the state of Colorado.
Why did you decide to join the military?
I decided to join the military because when I was in high school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do after I was done with high school. The recruiter contacted me. At first I didn’t think it was anything I’d be interested in. But then after thinking about it a little bit, I realized I never really thought about college and really don’t know what to do, so I’ll try it out. The recruiter made it sound like there was some great opportunities. It was a good idea for someone like me who didn’t really have the money for college, and my grades weren’t that great in high school. I wasn’t a highly scouted athlete or anything like that to get scholarships. So, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
Where have you been stationed?
My first duty station after training and schooling was at Camp Pendleton in California. I was with Sierra Battery 5th Battalion 11th Marines. It’s an artillery unit. I was there until 2000, and then I left on a ship for six months out to the pacific in the Middle East. I came back to Camp Pendleton and left the Marine Corps after my first enlistment. When I came back in, I was sent back to Camp Pendleton. From there I went to Germany, where I was stationed for about four and a half years. From Germany, I went back to Camp Pendleton. In 2013, I went to Afghanistan for 7 months. After that I came back to Camp Pendleton, and now I’m here. So, I was in Southern California the most.
How have you felt while you are serving in the Marine Corps? (successful, lonely, etc…)
No, never lonely. I think I’ve had a successful career. I didn’t really know what to expect when I joined the Marine Corps. Then when I left, I definitely missed it, and I was really glad for the opportunity to come back in. After I came back in, I knew this was for sure what I wanted to do until I retired. I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve done about half a dozen different jobs. I’ve met a lot of great people and been to a lot of really cool places. I would consider my career highly successful.
What has it been like while you have served?
Well, no doubt it’s hard. It’s not supposed to be easy in the Marine Corps. It was definitely hard especially my first year. Just adjusting to it as an 18 year old kid who thinks he is cooler than he actually is. My first year was a really rough transition, but I had really great leadership around me. After my first year, it got easier. As you get promoted, it gets easier too. I spent a lot time away from my home and family. Physically it’s hard especially my first unit in artillery. We did a lot of really hard physical training. Mentally, it’s pretty tough, because we are a pretty disciplined group of people, and you have to maintain that all the time. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain that. But I love it! I love it with all my heart, and that’s why I’m staying. That’s why I’m still here.
What was training like?
Boot camp was a huge culture shock. Nobody can fully prepare for that without actually going through it. My first few weeks there, I really wanted to quit a couple times. But I guess after getting over that mental hump, it was still hard, but I knew that I could do it. My job school was really easy. It was only five weeks long. When we were training out in the field – actually doing my job in artillery, it was really physically hard: a lot of late nights. A lot of getting dirty and staying dirty. That was hard, but I enjoyed it. I really liked my first job. My first unit is still my favorite unit. After that, I never really went through training that was too difficult for me. I’ve been to a bunch of different schools and a bunch of different training that has not been too much to handle.
You enlisted, what was your experience like?
I was in Air Force ROTC in high school for about three days. I didn’t like it, so I quit. I just enlisted right after high school. It was a long time ago. I remember the recruiters telling me since I had thought about going into law enforcement as a career, the military experience and discipline would tie in to law enforcement. That was one of the reasons I joined. I remember thinking that makes sense, because I can use my military experience to get into law enforcement. I remember that pretty well. Other than that, I didn’t really have too much experience with my recruiter. My family was pretty supportive. I lived with my aunt at the time. Her and my uncle were very supportive. My mom was a little scared just cause she’s a mom. My family was easy. My friends were not supportive. They thought it was a horrible mistake. From the time I met my recruiter until I went to boot camp, the whole process of enlisting wasn’t bad. I dealt with some negativity about my decision, but it was just my high school friends. I knew what I had to do.
What specifically is your job in the military?
Right now, I am a recruiter. I was in communications security before this.
Have you built good friendships?
It’s hard to put into words what I feel for some of the Marines I served with. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, because the best friends I have ever known are Marines. It’s just hard to put into words the love and the dedication that we have towards each other. And, it’s not just the guys that I have served with – it’s any Marine.
If a Marine has trouble, he’s going to be taken care of. For me personally, I have established and maintained relationships with the guys and girls I served with. I’ll do anything for them. If they have trouble, then without questions they have a roof over their heads, some food in their mouth, and clothes on their back. The friendships are like a family. I’m closer to some Marines than I am with my own family members. That’s because we’ve all gone through the same hardships. We’ve all gone through the same struggles. I’d do anything for them.
What does your family think of you being in the military?
They’re all extremely proud of me. My Dad was a Marine in Vietnam. When I first enlisted, he told me that he cried for a week, because he didn’t want me to join the Marine Corps. But now, he’s extremely proud of me. Everybody in my family is proud of me. Nobody in my family thinks I made the wrong decision. They love the idea. I’ve been away from my family a lot. That’s just life.
Were there any moments you were afraid?
Absolutely! Of course! During the first part of boot camp, I was really scared. I didn’t know what to expect. There was a period during my first enlistment where we were told that something might be going on in the world. You make sure you are ready to go if you’re needed. They put a restriction on how far from base you could travel. That kind of opened up my eyes. Oh my God! This is no kidding a possibility. I was a little scared, but it kind of opened up my eyes and helped prepare me mentally. Other than that, I’ve never been scared. I went to Afghanistan. I wasn’t scared. I wanted to go. I asked to go.
Do you feel like your career with the military was a successful and fulfilling one?
Without a doubt! I’d rather do nothing else. I got out for a period of time, and that was not a good experience. It felt right coming back in. I knew this is where I needed to be – where I should be. Without a doubt, this is a success.
Any stories you’d like to share?
The first one that comes into mind, and this is kind of funny. I spent my 21st birthday on a Navy ship off the coast of Qatar in the Middle-east. I was in the shower. When I got out, like 6 Marines jumped me. I didn’t even have a towel. They just jumped me. I’m on the ground. They’re kicking and hitting me – not hard just like a fun thing. I know our sense of humor is a little bit different than yours. We’re a little different people.
In boot camp, I got sick. Everybody gets sick in boot camp, but I had this weird rash. They got rid of it, but from then on the drill instructors called me ‘Outbreak’ which is the name of a movie.
There was another time in boot camp where I was late coming back from Family Day, the Thursday before graduation. You’re free to spend the day with your family. I was late coming back. I guess that’s also another time I was scared in boot camp because my drill instructors were so mad. They didn’t know where I was. They really gave it to me. It was pretty scary then but it is funny now that I think about it.
There are stories of the drill instructors just tearing the whole place apart and us having to spend the next 3 hours trying to figure out whose stuff is whose. “Is this your underwear or is this my underwear?” “Is this your toothbrush or is this my toothbrush?” There was just a pile of stuff in the middle of the room. That’s kind of funny now, but back then it was miserable.
The final two questions below gives the interviewee the opportunity to share their voice in the issue “Connecting & Protecting” is addressing.
Do you feel like there is a disconnection between the military and the general public?
Yes, I would say there is a huge disconnect. As a recruiter I see what parents and students think about the Marine Corps. It’s completely opposite of what’s actually the truth. A lot of people think that the Marine Corps is only about infantry. All the Marines do is teach people how to kill. We have so many different jobs. When I talk to people about communications security, they’re surprised. They didn’t know the Marine Corps did that. There are misconceptions about us. Quite frankly, it is our fault because we’re the ones that put the commercials and posters out there. The ones with the Marines running on the beach with the rifle. That’s all people can really see. Then when I talk to a parent, I explain what we’re really about – our values and what we have to offer. They tell me all the time that they had no idea that the Marine Corps paid for college, had a reserves, or these types of jobs.
Also, there are specific misconceptions about the Marine Corps. Some people think the Army gets paid more than the Marines which is not the case. They think the coast guard isn’t a branch. The Navy has more jobs than the Marines. There are a lot of misconceptions out there.
Do you have any ideas on how this issue can be fixed?
I think people need to do research before making a judgment. You should look it up instead of just judging what you hear. I tell parents and students that all the time. I ask, “What do you know about the Marine Corps?” or, “What makes you say that?” Most hardly know anything. I tell them to look it up, do some research, and keep an open mind. There’s a huge thought process in society that college is the next step after high school. That’s not always the case. People don’t fully look into what that means. A lot of people think that the military is a last resort option. When I’ve done things, been places, and had experiences that a 4 or 8 year college student can only imagine. And, on top of that, the Marine Corps has paid for my education. A lot of people don’t think like that. They just do what society says: go to high school, go to college, get a job, and go in to society. That is not always the right answer. People don’t think outside of that box most the time. The main things people need to do are to expand their mind, openly think about other options, think about what else is out there, do some research, and open their eyes a little bit to what we have to offer. Some of the most intelligent people I know are Marines. Some of the most intelligent people I know aren’t necessarily college graduates. That is also a misconception. That you have to be a college educated to be smart or a productive member of society. That is simply not true.