Edson Range, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Calif. -- While many recruits find opportunities for growth in recruit training, one recruit found it through a healthy lifestyle and furthering his education even before he arrived at the depot. He had his mind set on what he wanted to do, and all he had left was to make it happen.
Private First Class Juan Valenzuela, a native of Tracy, Calif., wanted to change his life for the better, and he pursued certain goals that would get him to where he wanted to be.
Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. - Private First Class Juan Valenzuela, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, holds his Eagle, Globe and Anchor upon completion of the Crucible at Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Oct. 1, 2015. After enduring 13 weeks of training, Marines are presented with the emblem that signifies their transformation to Marines. Today, all males recruited from west of the Mississippi are trained at Marine Corps Recruits Depot San Diego. The depot is responsible for training more than 16,000 recruits annually. Fox Company graduated Oct. 9, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl. Angelica I. Annastas)
After living in the small town of Tracy for four years, Valenzuela and his family moved north to Stockton in 2001. He grew up as the middle sibling between four older sisters and two younger brothers, and fondly remembers home being a family-oriented place.
“I had a big family and a big household,” said Valenzuela. “I guess you could say that my family life was pretty good for me.”
When Valenzuela began high school, it wasn't that much of a change for him. He had a lot of friends and school was easy for him.
“I had good grades,” Valenzuela said. “I didn't struggle at all in school; I even participated in (the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps).”
The program prepares high school students for leadership and good citizenship. Valenzuela saw JROTC as an opportunity to better himself and he took advantage of it.
During his junior year of high school, Valenzuela realized he wanted to join the United States Marine Corps, and that was a goal he held onto through high school.
“It was just something I wanted to try,” said Valenzuela. “I learned about it, and I wanted to join.”
While walking through the mall one day, Valenzuela met a Marine Corps recruiter, and that moment changed his life.
“I remember him telling me to be at (the office for physical training with the other poolees) that Thursday,” said Valenzuela with a smile.
There was one thing though, that held Valenzuela back from heading to recruit training- his weight. The Marine Corps has physical standards Marines are expected to follow and Valenzuela knew he didn't meet them.
“I was a little bigger than I wanted to be, so I made the decision to make a change,” said Valenzuela. “I ran with my cousin, and I went to PT at the office with the other poolees, too.”
Valenzuela dedicated himself not only to losing 50 pounds, but to furthering his education as well.
To pursue that goal, Valenzuela began attending San Joaquin Delta College. When he was physically ready for training, he left for the depot.
“Before joining I managed to get my basic business associates degree,” said Valenzuela.
The recruit life was tough for Valenzuela, and his senior drill instructor saw that within the first couple of weeks.
“I noticed it was a little hard for him during the individual runs,” said Sgt. Bernard Gooden, senior drill instructor, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. “I remember he fell out during one of the runs with a temperature of 103 degrees.”
Valenzuela pushed himself throughout recruit training, and he kept improving as the weeks went on. He used the progress he saw as motivation to not quit.
“He went from the slowest runner to running in the middle of groups,” said Gooden. “The week before the Crucible he fell out of [the physical fitness test], so I kept my eye on him and I saw that he kept putting out.”
He noticed his physical strength improved along with his mental endurance. Arriving at the depot, he could only complete eight pull-ups and was able to complete 19 by the end of training. Through all the hardships and setbacks, Valenzuela made it through the Crucible and graduated with Fox Company.
“He did well,” said Gooden. “He had a good work ethic.”
Valenzuela graduated Oct. 9, 2015 with attending Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton for further training and knowledge. He will then attend school for his military occupational specialty ... where he will learn about being a motor transportation operator.
Valenzuela is a Reserve Marine and he intends on continuing his education in California. He plans to study medical administration and also continue with business administration.
Valenzuela takes pride in who the Corps has helped him become, and he wants to continue to set goals to accomplish in his future.
By U.S. Marine Corps LCpl. Angelica I. Annastas
Marine Corps News
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