CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait --
In June 1993, “Jurassic Park” scored $50 million in its opening box-office weekend, Anna Nicole Smith graced the cover of Playboy, and Dr. Dre’s debut album joined the likes of Whitney Houston and Kenny G on the Billboard music chart’s Top 5. And it all happened before Pfc. Jeffrey Tobash, the youngest Marine in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was born.
Tobash celebrated his 19th birthday just three weeks ago, a significant enough event for a young Marine on deployment. But, July 25, 2012, marked an important date as well – the one-year anniversary of the day he stepped onto the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
“Even there, I was young,” he said.
Tobash, an intelligence specialist with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, hails from Allentown, Pa., the third-most populous city in the state, and largely known for Billy Joel’s 1982 single of the same name. Tobash said he hears that reference often, and although his musical tastes are quite diverse, he rarely listens to music made before the 90s.
But Allentown is far away from Camp Buehring, Kuwait, a staging base for U.S. Armed Forces where Tobash currently lives and works, providing intelligence data for the 24th MEU’s ground combat element as they take part in sustainment training in the often harsh desert conditions.
“My job is to reduce the commander’s uncertainty by evaluating weather and terrain,” he said. “Just doing anything to answer the commander’s questions about the battlefield, the terrain around the battlefield, to make operations and missions – and the commander’s decisions – easier.”
The fact that Tobash is attached to an infantry-based BLT is somewhat ironic; when his parents signed a waiver for him to enlist in the Marine Corps’ delayed entry program at just 17, it was with stipulations.
“My mom said the only way she would sign the contract was if I chose something that wasn’t infantry related. I originally had an ‘03’ (infantry) contract, and made intelligence my third choice to make her happy,” he explained.
High test scores helped put Tobash in the intelligence field, but he’s not arrogant about it. When asked if he has “smarts,” Tobash responds lightly: “I guess the Marine Corps thinks so.” He chose the Corps over other services mainly due to influences revolving around his older brothers’ friends, some of whom were Marines, and his brother Marc, now 24, who wanted to enlist but has a disqualifying heart murmur.
“Marc was a big influence for me joining the Marine Corps because he went through the whole process, talking to the recruiters and stuff, and I was there for a lot of it. I was 13 at the time and seeing a Marine walk in the house in his Dress Blue uniform, sitting at the table and talking to him, it was pretty influential. It was someone to emulate,” said Tobash.
But there’s more to it than just the uniform.
“I figured I’d have 18 years of fun beforehand, and I could give five to my country,” he answered when asked about his reason for committing to the Marines before graduating high school. “College really wasn’t for me at the time. I just didn’t want to follow the path of everyone else, I wanted to look back and say I did more in four years than get a diploma.”
Tobash said he wasn’t an ideal student in high school. He didn’t care much about academics and didn’t respect his teachers much, but the Marine Corps has taught him to appreciate the wisdom that comes with experience. He also said respect isn’t just about those senior in rank to him, but also senior in billet.
“It was a hard concept to grasp at first, because kids the same age as me or maybe a little bit older – these are the same people I would hang out with back in high school or back in the rear, but here they’re appointed above me and I have to listen to exactly what they say. It took a while to catch on, but eventually I learned that, even with just a year experience, they know a lot more than I do – I have to listen to them and I’ll be better off if I do.”
Experience is definitely something that a young Marine can gain while deployed with a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a crisis response and contingency force of approximately 2,300 Marines forward-deployed throughout the world.
The North Carolina based 24th MEU, currently deployed in support of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, is halfway through a scheduled eight-month deployment, but Tobash missed some of its early missions as he was still attending initial training schools when the MEU departed in March. In fact, his first day in the Fleet Marine Force was when the MEU wrapped up Exercise Eager Lion 12, a large multi-national exercise that took place in May.
And it was probably a different sort of first day than most Marines recall.
“I met the 24th MEU on the shore in Jordan, but they were doing a ‘beer on the pier’ thing when I got there, and I was like ‘this can’t be what a deployment is like,’” Tobash said. “But then we left the shore and transitioned to going to work every day and not getting much sleep. I thought, ‘this seems more like what’s going to be going on.’”
So far, the 24th MEU’s Kuwait sustainment training in and around Camp Buehring has made up most of Tobash’s first deployment, but in typical Marine Corps fashion, the 19-year-old yearns for something less comfortable.
“I feel somewhat guilty because there are so many amenities here, some I don’t even have in the rear (referring to life back stateside),” he said.
Even though he’s still technically a teenager, Tobash has learned several things in his short Marine Corps career and speaks maturely about his first year as a Marine. He says the best piece of advice he can give is to “take the small wins that each day gives.”