Pvt. Sean L. Ontiveros, Platoon 2129, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, overcame family hardships to become a part of the brotherhood in the United States Marine Corps.
Ontiveros was born, and spent the beginning part of his childhood, in El Paso, Texas. His father left when he was five, but he was lucky enough to have his grandfather there to spend a lot of time with him. Over the years Ontiveros grew very close to his grandfather and learned a lot from him.
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. - Pvt. Sean L. Ontiveros, Platoon 2129, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, provides security during a Crucible event at Edson Range aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 30, 2014. Ontiveros endured family hardship and slept in a park before shipping out to recruit training to accomplish his goal of becoming a United States Marine. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Benjamin E. Woodle)
“My grandfather loved watching NASCAR and the Game Show Network,” said Ontiveros, who was recruited out of Recruiting Sub-Station Tempe, Ariz. “He and I would watch it together for hours. He also loved to bake. We used to bake cookies all the time.”
Ontiveros recalled that when he was around the age of 10 or 11, his grandfather passed away from lung cancer. He had lost his best friend and was lost in his emotions.
“It was hard to go back to school and try to concentrate,” said Ontiveros. “All I could think about was my grandfather.”
His grandfather's death had a huge impact on his life, but the impact also greatly affected his mother. She felt she needed to move to help get over her grief, so Ontiveros, his older sister and mother set off on a new journey.
“My mom didn't want to live in El Paso anymore because it reminded her so much of my grandfather,” said Ontiveros. “We ended up moving to Phoenix, Arizona.”
With El Paso behind him, Ontiveros moved forward and continued on through middle school and high school. Unfortunately, though, tragedy struck again.
“My sophomore year of high school my mom was injured in a car accident,” said Ontiveros. “The accident worsened a previous back injury and caused extensive nerve damage, resulting in her becoming disabled. It was hard to watch her because she was in pain all the time.”
His mom was no longer able to work, and the difficulties became too much for her, which resulted in her decision to move back to El Paso to be with close relatives. Ontiveros, who was going into his senior year of high school, wanted to stay in Phoenix.
“I had been living in Phoenix for so long that it became my home, not El Paso,” said Ontiveros. “I had already started talking to recruiters to join the military and just wanted to finish my senior year of school there.”
With her mind made up, Ontiveros' mom sold all of her possessions to make the move as simple as possible, including his items as well, even though he decided to stay.
“My mom ended up just selling everything she could, including the majority of my possessions,” said Ontiveros. “All I have left fits in a duffle bag and a laundry basket.”
Ontiveros lived with an uncle in Phoenix, but halfway through his senior school year was forced to move out. With duffle bag and laundry basket in hand, he had no place to go.
“After I got kicked out, I slept in a park,” said Ontiveros. “My mom would put $20 a week into my bank account, and I would use that to buy bus passes to get around town, to church and to recruiter events.”
Ontiveros was dealing with his mother's injuries and homelessness, but he was constantly talking to recruiters about joining the military.
“It was all about just graduating high school,” said Ontiveros. “Once I had that, I could walk into the recruiters office and say ‘I have my diploma, I'm 18, what else do I need to do to join the military?'”
According to Ontiveros, his grandfather had served in the Army, and though he was retired, still maintained his military bearing and discipline. It was what motivated him at a young age to want to join.
“He was very instrumental in me being interested in joining the military,” said Ontiveros. “I knew from a young age that I wanted to join; it was always something I was dead set on.”
Ontiveros originally had no interest in joining the Marines, but always saw a recruiter at his school with the pull-up bar station or handing out free stickers, water bottles or lanyards. When he turned 17 years old, the Marine recruiter reached out to him.
“The (Marine) recruiter came over to me and said ‘hey man, it's your senior year, what do you want to do,'” said Ontiveros. “Part of me wanted to join the Army because of my grandfather's service there, so I just blew him off.”
Ontiveros ran into the recruiter again, but this time was given a unique proposition.
“One day the (Marine) recruiter came to talk to the band that I was in,” said Ontiveros. “He said he had a deal for me, that he would go get the Army recruiter in there to talk to me, and then I could decide.”
Ontiveros spoke to the Army recruiter and listened to everything he had to say, but something had grown inside of him that wanted to see what the Marine Corps had to offer. He ended up going back to the Marine recruiter to sit down and talk, and unexpectedly became impressed.
“When I talked to the Marine recruiter he was on point,” said Ontiveros. “He asked me ‘what does the Marine Corps mean to you?' I thought of them as being the badest, toughest people in the world. He said that I could do it, all I had to do was just try.”
The Marine recruiter invited Ontiveros out to a poolee physical training session and was impressed by how exhausted it had made him.
“After the workout he told me I could do it and that I should,” said Ontiveros. “From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a Marine.”
Ontiveros had seen and experienced what Marines were like and was eager to become a part of the brotherhood.
“I've never seen a Marine who wasn't proud to be a Marine,” said Ontiveros. “It was a cool thing, and they were proud of it. It made me think, ‘I could have that, I could be part of something like that.' The way they worked and went about things was motivating. It showed that they knew what they were doing, and I wanted that.”
Finally making it to recruit training, Ontiveros had his chance to prove he could be part of the brotherhood.
“Whatever the drill instructors said, we knew he was going to get done and there wasn't going to any pushback,” said Sgt. Brandon M. Wheland, senior drill instructor, Plt. 2129. “He was a great recruit and really engaged because this was all he had.”
During recruit training, Ontiveros was able to take his hardships and use them as a positive influence on his fellow recruits.
“Other recruits were having a hard time saying they wanted to go home,” said Wheland. “He talked to them and motivated them to want to stay in training and push forward; that completing the training was the right thing to do.”
Now, with his Eagle, Globe and Anchor in hand, Ontiveros will move on to Marine Combat Training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. He will then attend his military occupational specialty training as a bulk fuel specialist and looks forward to being part of the brotherhood.
By U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Benjamin E. Woodle
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego
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