5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY --
Cpl. Diego Melendez gets to shoot automatic weapons in foreign countries when he is not making sure trucks, engines, parts, ammo, chow and various other mission essential items get to where they need to go.
Or at least that is how he spent Aug. 12, on Udairi Range, Kuwait – firing an M-2 .50 cal. machine gun while on his first deployment.
The 21-year-old Camden, N.J., native serves as a logistics specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and is responsible for the coordination and transportation of everything Marines need to accomplish their missions from ship to shore and shore to ship.
“My job is to make sure all the gear gets from point A to point B,” he said. “We have everything from 7-tons (large transport trucks) to large containers to engine parts. You name it, I deal with it.”
A big part of his job focuses on maximizing space usage while embarking equipment, especially on ship where space is limited.
“It’s like I have to play Tetris on ship and make sure everything fits,” he said, referring to the video game that requires players to fit different shapes together to make even rows.
When he is not coordinating the movement of mission essential gear he does what any good Marine does – trains to fight.
“Who can say that their job is sometimes to shoot weapons in foreign countries?” he said. “It’s part of my job. In a couple of days I get to shoot the ‘Mark’ 19 (MK 19 40mm automatic grenade launcher).”
Melendez said he decided to join the Marine Corps his senior year at Pennsauken High School after a chance encounter with a Marine recruiter.
“I was walking up the stairs, I saw the recruiter, he looked at me, and that’s when it all started,” he said. “The recruiter said ‘do you want to know a little bit more about the Marine Corps?’ I said ‘yeah, sure.’”
On Oct. 29, 2009, Melendez found himself standing on the yellow foot prints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.
“I will never forget that day … I can’t even explain it,” he said. “You just have to go through it to understand how it feels to stand on the yellow footprints. I don’t regret this decision,” he said.
How could he? After just under five months into the deployment Melendez has traveled to five different countries, trained with foreign forces and celebrated his 21st birthday in Albania when the ship he is assigned to, USS Gunston Hall, stopped there for a port visit.
“Who back home can say they spent their 21st birthday in Albania?” he said.
Currently, Melendez is training in Kuwait along with other Marines from CLB 24. The training in Kuwait is part of a 24th MEU sustainment training package meant to keep the Marines’ skills sharp as an expeditionary force in readiness.