Active Duty Interview: Suresh Pandey

I can’t believe I’ve been interviewing military for over a year now.  This journey has been so amazing and it brings so much joy to see the response from all of you.  The stories I’ve been told makes me excited and anxious for more.  At this point, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you which one is my favorite.  Here is another individual to make that decision even harder!

 

img_2221Staff Sergeant Suresh Pandey

United States Marines

With 10 years and 2 months of service so far, SSgt. Pandey’s story definitely shows just how strong our military are and how much they will go through to ensure our safety.  His willingness to share his struggles presents a new found respect for the military.

Why did you decide to join the Marines?

College wasn’t my thing, even though I had a scholarship to go to school. It’s what everybody else wanted, but I didn’t want to go to school. I ended up sitting down with a recruiter. He told me about traveling and the brotherhood. It intrigued me and I knew it was something I wanted to do with my life.

Where have you been stationed?

Boot Camp, Parris Island

Marine Combat Training, NC

Virginia

Okinawa, Japan

Australia

Korea

Back to Japan

Camp Pendleton, CA

Afghanistan

29 Palms, CA

Denver, CO

What will be your next station after here?

I just found out about a month ago that I’ll be going to Hawaii.

How do you feel while you are in the military? (Successful, lonely, etc…)

I feel like I’m doing something different. I’m actually helping out in the community and the world. I do feel successful but, there are some hard times. My recruiter told me it would be hard, he said, “nothing’s easy in the Marine Corps.” I expected it to be hard.  The hardest thing I’ve ever done is recruiting. Once I get done with this I know I made a difference. I helped a lot of individuals become a Marine and mentored a lot of them.  Just being able to see a teenager become a grown man makes it all worth it.

What has it been like while you’ve been serving? (Rough, thrilling, etc…)

It’s up and down. Sometimes it’s the hardest moment of your life, but that’s the moment you remember. I remember doing training for a month straight and not being able to shower or anything. That’s called the field life, you laugh about it when you talk about it. With training, you have a set schedule, but when you’re not training you’re doing your normal job. When I was in Australia go 17 days are the hardest days of my life. We woke up at 3:00 AM and didn’t go to sleep until 10, 11, or 12 PM. It was rough, but I was expecting it. They said we would work hard.  However, for some of the time, we got to go out and have some fun and explore. Then when I went to Korea was really cold. So there were definitely some rough times there. So yea, it has its ups and downs, you have the great moments and the rough times but everything’s for something.

What was training like for you?

Honestly, it was the most fun thing I have ever done. The first week sucked because we sat around and waited.  We had to get all our paperwork and everything done.  Then when we finally met our Drill Instructor, it was the scariest day of my life, and after that, it was a constant “go, go, go”.  I was constantly learning new things and doing training. Before I joined the Marine Corps, I loved playing sports. So going through different types of training was exciting, hard but it was worth it.  Boot camp is more mental, but for me physically it was a lot of fun. However, I was afraid of heights.  When I was little I used to climb trees and jump off of buildings and everything, but once I hit a certain age I stopped.  So I became afraid of heights again.  At boot camp, you have to jump off of a 10 ft. tower into the water and rappel down a 60 ft. tower to the ground. I did do it, but the height got me a little bit. When everything was over and they gave me my EGA, I felt like I accomplished something.

You enlisted, what was your experience like with that process?

At first, I didn’t take it seriously. The more I thought about it, the better it got. The hardest part about enlisting was convincing my parents. My dad is Indian and my mom is Nepalese.  When I told them the idea, my dad pretty much said no. My recruiter wanted to talk to my dad, so when he came by, my dad slammed the door on him and told him to never come back. It honestly took me three months to convince my dad until he finally realized it was serious. My mom, on the other hand, she was going to support my decision anyway, but she was not thrilled about it. She started crying when she signed the paper and told me she didn’t want to lose me. When the recruiter actually did come by, they talked about going to war, the possibility of death, and everything. He told them the truth and my dad actually respected him a little bit more.  He told them the education opportunities, the travel opportunities, and how I could retire in 20 years, to ease the pain a little bit.  MEPS was horrible, you wake up the 5:30 and sit there.  All the doctors check you from head to toe, and it is not fun. That’s when I joined; it’s a little better right now, but when I joined it was like 100 people going a day. Now it’s more like 20-30, so it’s not as bad. It is one day, but it seems like forever.

What is your job in the Marines?

Besides recruiting, my job is Food Service Specialist.

Do you feel like you’ve built good friendships while serving?

Yes! Okinawa was the first place I made a brother, Moua because we went through job school, then we went straight to Okinawa. I still keep in contact with people from boot camp, but Moua, became my best friend, and we still talk. When I became the Colonel’s driver, which is the commanding officer for the base. I became one of the camp’s Commandant’s driver. I drove him everywhere and I met the other drivers. I still keep in contact with them. All the people that are in the Marine Corps, I still keep in contact with today. All my brothers that are out, they constantly text me, asking for advice; and I constantly text them asking for advice. The cool thing is, no matter what state I go to, I have a friend that lives there and I can stay there for free. I’ve honestly had over 50 requests this year alone to come visit.  The friendship is beyond believable. No matter where I go, I find a new family and I will always have my old family to rely on.

What does your family think of you being in the military?

Before I joined the military, I think my mom was the only one that let me. My sister and dad hated me, my brother hated me because I was always picking on him, and my little sisters were too little to care at the time.  Since I’ve joined, my dad has a different opinion on me, like he no longer looks down at me.  When I graduated from boot camp that was the first time he ever said he was proud of me.  So his whole attitude changed towards me.  My older sister would always pick on me and get me in trouble.  Now she looks at me differently as well. Now she thinks I actually did something that was crazy and hard.  My younger siblings look up to me and always ask for advice when I go home for a visit.  My older sister does her own thing, but she still keeps in contact with me to see what I’m doing.  My family loves it!

Besides my immediate family, my aunts and uncles hated me as well.  I was a bad kid before I joined the Marine Corps.  Before I wasn’t even allowed in the house. I just wanted to do everything I could and have lots of fun as a kid.  I needed to grow up.  But now, every house I visit, there’s always a picture of me with my dress blues on. That’s why I get so excited when the opportunity to change someone’s life comes up because I understand what they are going through.

Were there any moments you’ve been afraid?

We were doing the Martial Arts Instructor Course.  That’s where you become an instructor for a Martial Arts Program. So you teach other Marines how to do martial arts and upgrade in belts.  While we were going through the course, we went to the pool and I was afraid of heights, still am a little bit.  There was this 30 ft. tower and I started to climb up.  My legs started shaking and I slapped my leg to try to stop it. The higher I went, the shakier my legs got.  My legs just kept shaking and when I finally got to top, I was terrified. I didn’t want to look down or up.  So when I got to edge to jump, a man told me to look down.  I told him, no, but he said I would have to look down before I jumped.  So I looked down and my heart stopped beating. At that moment I said I can’t do this anymore and the guy told me I can.  I looked left and right, then he said, “Okay. This is what I want you to do, I want you to look down and tell me who’s down there.”  I told him nothing and it was just water.  He said, “No, your brother is down there and he’s wounded. You need to go save him.” That’s when my fear went away and I jumped down.  Now the funny thing is, I remember jumping from the 10 ft. tower at boot camp, you jump and you hit the water. This one, however, I jumped and I was like, “Alright, I’m going to hit the water.” Nope! Then I thought again, “It’s time to hit the water!” because I had closed my eyes.  Finally, when I was least expecting it, it was like, “Boom!” So it kind of shook me a little bit and when I hit the bottom of the pool I froze for a second. When I got out of the water, it was the worst and best feeling ever.

Did you serve in a war?

I did! I went to Afghanistan.  I was out there for about a year.

Do you feel like your career in the military is a successful and fulfilling one?

I do believe so. I’ve had a lot of awards that said I’ve done a good job.  I feel like I am really successful. There are some things I wish I didn’t do like I wish I didn’t slack off when I first got in.  My first 4 years I decided to get out. The Marine Corps wasn’t something I wanted to continue. So I kind of slacked off on my physical fitness and everything like that because I was getting ready to transit to civilian life.  Then they told me they had this great opportunity where I could go to Afghanistan. That’s where I did want to go and when he told me it was a year-long, I jumped on board.  But when I slacked off on there, it hurt my promotional rate. That kind of backtracked me a little bit and made it harder for me to get promoted. So that meant working even harder for it.  Other than that, I have been successful and I’m just waiting for the future honestly.

Any stories you’d like to share?

When I was stationed in Australia, we had finished our 17 days of training.  It was the last day in the field. While we were out there we went to go do our hygiene stuff, like brushing our teeth and shaving. As my Gunny and I were brushing our teeth, I look up and see a kangaroo standing right in front of us. I watched the kangaroo, he was watching my Gunny.  Gunny was minding his own business, didn’t even look up.  I said, “Gunny, I think that Kangaroo, is going to destroy you.” and he looks up and goes, “Oh *bleep*.” They just stare at one another and he goes, “*Bleep* no!” and starts running.  All you see is the kangaroo chasing him. I’ve never seen a guy run so fast until I saw him get chased by a kangaroo.  Gunny finally gets into this metal container box and shuts the door. The kangaroo beats on it for a little bit and then it just left after that. That was honestly the best thing I have ever seen like I still remember it, I remember the look on Gunny’s face. He had no idea what to do except run.

What do you see yourself doing after the military?

One of the ideas that I had is to open my own restaurant.  The other is to doing security or DoD contracting with the Government because of its traveling opportunities.  I haven’t decided yet between the two.  Because I do want to travel, but when it’s time to settle that’s when I want to open up my own restaurant.

The final two questions below give 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, everybody thinks that we go to war and die. Especially for the Marine Corps.  Yes, we are America’s 911 force.  Like if you join and you pick a combat job, you know what your job is, but if you don’t want a combat job, there are other opportunities in the military.  There are non-combat jobs, all you have to do is research and ask questions. So yea, the general public just sees that we go to war and die.  I wish they’d come into the offices to find out more about what the military has to offer.

Do you have any ideas on how this issue could be resolved?

That’s a hard one.  Mainly because we have to get all the counselors, advisors, and teachers on board with what we want to tell them. So if we could get the teachers to actually look into the military and send them to the Educator Workshops so they can learn what the military can do for individuals.  I wish we could teach counselors who can give advice to kids. So if we could actually educate the counselors, the teachers, and anybody else who can help out, the military would get better.  Also, walk into the offices and ask about the opportunities.

 

 

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