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From graduate to grunt

Geraldine Haldner
Michael Martinez, 18, a senior at Eagle Valley High School, is joining the United States Marines.
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He’s got less than a day, however, to go from being a graduate to a boot-camp grunt.

Martinez, who graduates May 31, leaves June 1 for South Carolina to become a U.S. Marine. He figures he can use a couple of extra hours of shut-eye before he begins nine weeks of basic training, in which sleep – along with showers, privacy, television and every other feature of daily life – will suddenly become a rare commodity.

A giant step

Though he has little time to rest on his laurels as a high school graduate, Martinez is a vision of calmness as he talks about taking a giant step in his life – a huge leap, even by peacetime standards. At this time, it could land him in the midst of the Iraqi desert in as little as three months.

“I’m not worried,” says the 18-year-old Martinez with a slow smile.

It becomes clear very quickly he doesn’t care much for all the attention, even if his enlistment in times of war has taken on bigger meaning with everyone – except himself. He’s a big guy, a good guy, funny and down-to-earth, say his teachers and friends. He says he likes action movies and all kinds of music, except for classical, because it puts him to sleep.

Martinez is the kind of guy who doesn’t seek the spotlight but who is sought out for his easy-going companionship.

Though he can bench-press 315 pounds – and is proud of it – Martinez seems to be the quintessential gentle giant.

He talks in hushed tones and shrugs his massive shoulders a lot.

To him defending his country isn’t such a big deal.

After all, he made up his mind in the ninth grade.

“My dad was in the Marines, and almost all of my uncles,” he says when asked why he wants to be a Marine.

“Why not?” he says.

That’s his standard answer whenever someone asks why he enlisted this past December, despite the threat of war looming just inches from reality.

Learning something new

Martinez and fellow senior Julie Romagnoli seem to have to explain their motivations for joining the military a lot these days.

“You’re crazy; why would you want to join now?” Romagnoli says are some of the most common responses she gets whenever her enlistment and her continued commitment to become a soldier come up in conversation.

Romagnoli, an A student, says she considered college and would have qualified for several scholarships and student aid packages, but she signed up anyway “because of the opportunity to travel and to learn something new.”

Like Martinez, Romagnoli, a slight 17-year-old with dark auburn hair, doesn’t seem fazed or intimidated by the prospect of real enemies aiming at her with real arms.

“I’m signed up, I have to stick with it,” she says with a quick smile that reflects in her serious dark eyes.

“I’m not scared – not yet,” she says, the second part of the sentence uttered in unison with Martinez after exchanging glances.

A rare opportunity

Romagnoli signed up last August, and after a battery of tests has been selected for a rare opportunity to train as a linguist in the U.S. Army.

“That’s kind of like a spy; you get to interrogate people,” she says when asked what the 18-week specialized training after boot camp will prepare her to do.

She excels at speaking before an audience, say her teachers. She’s fluent in Spanish, speaks “some” French and says she is planning to learn Italian, as well. She nods modestly when asked if languages come easily to her.

Like Martinez, Romagnoli isn’t going for the dramatic effect of joining the military at a time when U.S. soldiers are paying the ultimate price in a country half a world away. She says she is excited and ready to begin a new chapter in her life, one where “there suddenly isn’t someone to pick up after you,” she says.

“We knew it was coming’

Living for the first time without parents will be tough, both admit.

“My Mom is kind of worried about me,” says Romagnoli, “but my parents understood that I really want to do this.”

When asked how they feel about war protesters, both shrug their shoulders lightly at people out there who are doubting the very task these two high school seniors are going to be trained to do.

“I saw some protesters the other day in Greeley,” says Martinez. “It made me kind of mad, I guess.”

“We knew it was coming; now we have to deal with it,” adds Romagnoli.

“If everyone thought like them, where would we be as a country?” Martinez asks. “Somebody has to do it – I’m OK doing it.”

Geraldine Haldner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at ghaldner@vaildaily.com.


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