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Oh, How Far I've Come!
by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dakota Dodd
August 21, 2022

“When I walked down the streets, the buildings were destroyed and trash was all over the place,” said a young Sam Plaskon. “But here, [United States] here you could tell it was a better place.”

Sam Plaskon and his twin brother started the first eight years of their lives in and out of orphanages across Ukraine, before finally being adopted by a new family and moving to the United States.

U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor Sgt. Sam Plaskon aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC on August 18, 2022. Sgt. Plaskon was originally born in Ukraine; He was adopted and brought to the United States at the age of 8 years old. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dakota Dodd)
U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor Sgt. Sam Plaskon aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC on August 18, 2022. Sgt. Plaskon was originally born in Ukraine; He was adopted and brought to the United States at the age of 8 years old. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dakota Dodd)

“We were scared,” said Sam. “We really didn’t trust anyone. Coming from Ukraine where anything could happen to you, to now being with an unfamiliar new family; it was scary.”

Sam and his twin brother James, were almost inseparable. While coming to a new place and whilst being surrounded by new people, they ensured that closeness never went away.

“My brother and I, we kind of stuck with each other,” said Sam. “We were close, but that was because we didn’t know what was going to happen and we gave each other a certain comfort.”

Coming to the United States was a challenge for the Plaskons. Learning a new language, meeting new people, and having to create a completely new way of life; their world had turned upside down.

“When we came here, we were homeschooled for the first six months,” said Sam. “My mom had to teach us everything, like the basics of English, even colors and numbers.”

But not everything was a rough start for the Plaskon’s new home.

“I remember the portion sizes of food were huge!” Sam laughed. “But not only that, everything was clean, people were nice to you, we were treated like family, we finally had love and affection like we had never had before.”

Sam and his brother started school in the first grade, even though they were older than the other students.

“It was very difficult for us, having to go through all of those ESL [English as a Second Language] classes,” said Sam. “For both elementary school and middle school, I struggled. I had such a hard time grasping English and spelling.”

Sam, with his wilting education, was once again pushed to rock bottom.

“I was struggling,” said Sam. “I was struggling to the point where I told myself I wasn’t smart enough.”

Even as he hit the bottom, Sam didn’t give up or give in. He persisted and started to set himself apart from rest.

“As I got into high school, I started studying more and paying more attention in class,” said Sam. “Finally, when I graduated, I was in the top ten percent of my class.”

This transition didn’t just appear out of nowhere. One key character in Sam’s life played a role in that.

“I used to work in a movie theater when I was in high school,” Sam chuckled. “There was a gentleman who would come in all the time, and eventually, I got to know him.”

Unbeknownst to Sam, this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

“He told me that if I was ever interested in law enforcement that he would take me into the cadet program,” said Sam.

That gentleman was Trooper Ian Rola, with the Maryland State Police. Over the coming months, Trooper Rola mentored Sam, offering him words of wisdom, sound advice, and a shoulder to lean on.

“He taught me how to be a man,” said Sam. “He taught me how to stand up for what is right, how to stand your ground, how to treat people with dignity and respect, and to never let anybody do the job for you when you can easily do it yourself.”

But the life lessons from Trooper Rola all came from one specific place; Before becoming a state trooper, he was first and foremost a United States Marine. It was these life lessons that helped shape Sam into a young man and guided his decision to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

“I wanted to change as a person,” he said. “This was my way of giving back to the country that had given me so much.”

Rct. Plaskon shipped to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. on October 18, 2015 at the age of nineteen and was placed in Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion.

“I was definitely scared,” said Plaskon. “It was a culture shock, but overtime I grew to like it.”

Plaskon earned his Eagle, Globe and Anchor on January 8, 2016 and the title of United States Marine. This title mended the bond between Plaskon and Trooper Rola tighter than ever before.

“I was lucky enough to hold a lot of high billets in the fleet,” he said. “At times I was in charge of over 120 Marines.”

Sgt. Plaskon arrived at MCRD Parris Island Drill Instructor School in October of 2021 and completed a grueling 11-week training cycle before earning the coveted campaign cover on December 17, 2021 and formally becoming a United States Marine Corps drill instructor.

“It taught me alot,” said Plaskon. “It taught me to hold the standards high and hold myself above the highest standards.”

Now, Sgt. Plaskon serves as a drill instructor for Echo Company in 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. Each cycle, he passes on the knowledge and wisdom he once received from Trooper Rola to the recruits he transforms from civilians to United States Marines.

U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor Sgt. Sam Plaskon provides weapons instructions with Echo Company recruits aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC on August 18, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dakota Dodd)
U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor Sgt. Sam Plaskon provides weapons instructions with Echo Company recruits aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC on August 18, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dakota Dodd)

“To me, I wake up every morning at 100%,” he said. “I know that I am making Marines and that I would want them to emulate me when they leave here. It definitely makes me proud of what I do.”

But even after all these years, Sgt. Plaskon hasn’t lost touch with his humble origins and to this day Trooper Rola remains as a mentor and a shoulder to lean on whenever the need arises.

“I don’t think I could ever make up for it,” Sgt. Plaskon said. “If it wasn’t for him [Trooper Rola] I honestly couldn’t tell you where I would be at right now.”

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