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Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson, combat photographer, Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, is intrigued by the culture of the ancient Vikings and is currently aboard the Combat Center documenting Integrated Training Exercise 2-17. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Medina Ayala-Lo)

Photo by Cpl. Medina Ayala-Lo

What I’ve Learned: Aaron S. Patterson

13 Feb 2017 | Cpl. Medina Ayala-Lo Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

>I like to say I’m a school-house baby. My parents were both Marines and they were in the same [military occupational specialty] when they met. The first place I remember was [Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.]. I was born in the Naval Hospital. Around the time they started getting out we began to move around a lot for my dad’s jobs.

>They were in the military for the first 14 years of my life. My dad got lots of jobs with different companies. My mom went to college for a little bit, and then she came back in the military with the Air National Guard.

>Moving from place to place was hard the first few times because I couldn’t really get used to saying goodbye. I would make a best friend in one state and then a couple of years later I would move and make a new best friend.

>I’m not afraid to admit that I probably cried as a young kid having to say goodbye to everybody. I didn’t really have a method of dealing with it as much as I did a thought process. I just thought to myself that I was going to be okay because I always was every time I moved so it wasn’t the end of the world to me.

>The last time I cried saying goodbye to someone was my best friend from Connecticut. His name was James Sampson. It was really hard because I lived in Connecticut for seven years so I really bonded with the people there.

>Some people might say it’s damaging but by the time I became a teenager I felt like moving a lot had strengthened me. It made it easier to say goodbye and it made it easier for me to become more outgoing.

>I’m the oldest of three siblings. My brother is 19 and my sister is
turning 18. They were interested in joining the Marine Corps when they were younger. My brother is doing his own thing in college now and my sister is about to start college. I still tell them every now and then that if they were ever interested again, I could help them get set up for a whole different world.

>My dad has definitely shown me the example of being a man. He really tried his best to make sure I came up right, and I admire him for that. My mother was always influencing me to do the right thing. She’s a big political guru, even though she’s on one side she always urged me to look on both sides of the spectrum. I use that in life. I can think one way about something, but when I find myself thinking about how someone else feels in the moment then I understand why they think or act a certain way.

>Another thing my dad taught me was, “It’s not what happens to you that defines you, it’s what you do about it.” A lot of big things can happen to you but how you deal with those circumstances determines who you are.

>Growing up, my parents were always giving me hints here and there about joining the Marine Corps. It also helped that my mom was a recruiter around the time I was old enough to understand what the Marine Corps was. She definitely influenced me a lot but my parents never forced me, they were always okay with whatever life path I would’ve chosen.

>The deciding factor for me was that I didn’t quite understand what I wanted to do right after high school. I didn’t have a specific skill set or a passion and I thought I had nothing to lose joining the Marine Corps. I thought I would find myself, which I feel like I did. I eventually fell in love with photography after learning combat photography.

>Before joining, I wanted to be an infantry man but my dad was urging me to be a [military police officer]. My parents didn’t want me to do infantry but I wanted to rebel. Then when I was going over the jobs with my recruiter, I saw something called a media option. He explained to me each of the MOS’s in the [occupational field] and I decided I wanted to do combat photography.

>I took one photography class in high school. It was fun but I wasn’t as obsessed with it as I am now. When I joined and did it for the Marine Corps I actually sucked. I had a [non-commissioned officer] above me who was actually pretty good and I wondered how he got his photos to look the way they did but with too much pride, I couldn’t ask him. So I did a lot of research, I looked up images on Google, I played with the settings on my camera and I taught myself.

>That was one of my flaws and it still might be a little bit; asking for help or advice.

>Around the time I took a photography class in high school, I also took a graphic design class and it taught me a little bit of [Adobe Illustrator] and Photo-shop, and I liked the idea of creating something that wasn’t real. One of the first images I experimented with was taking a picture of myself in a room and then multiplying myself everywhere with different poses.

>I would say photography is the front runner when it comes to my passions and I still heavily do my own graphic design. I play around with my photos and do posters and experiment with my own special effects.

>What I like about photography is it gives me a rush when people see the work you put out and they go “Wow cool, how did you do that?” or they say “That’s a really interesting perspective”. I like the feeling of creating something that’s unique to myself but appreciated by other people.

>In school I wasn’t a heavy sports player but I liked staying active. I played football, I ran track and cross-country. In high school my hobbies usually were just video games and hanging out with friends like a normal boring person.

>I do feel like I’m a lot more comfortable as an adult. Moving around a lot got me more opened up. Usually, I would clam up when I talked to people or shut down because I hated big crowds. Now I kind of like a crowded room, because I like looking at all the different things about what makes people unique. I like meeting people’s good sides and discovering their personalities.

>Of all the places I’ve been, I would say Connecticut was my favorite. It was just a beautiful rural, American town that I used to live in.

>Being stationed in Hawaii is awesome. It never gets cold there, it’s about 70 degrees year round, the beaches are beautiful, the sand is soft. If you hear the word “Aloha,” you kind of feel Aloha once you actually live there.

>If I re-enlist, I’d like to go from a non-deployable unit to a deployable one. If I don’t re-enlist, I want to get my degree in photography and go to Washington State to plant my roots as a freelance photographer.

>My favorite part about being a photographer in the Marine Corps is that you get to experience everyone’s MOS. You don’t experience just the infantry; you work with aviation, artillery, admin and supply. You get a taste of everyone’s job and learn a little bit about their lives, and then you get to regurgitate that and tell their stories in the photos that you take.

>What I think I’ll keep with me from being in the Marine Corps, photography aside, is time management and also professionalism. I didn’t have a job before I joined, so I didn’t know what it was like to have a job or a professional work ethic. Being in the Marine Corps has definitely taught me a lot about professionalism, setting a really good example and being a positive face to who you meet.

>To me, being a positive face means representing my brand well. To civilians it would be me representing the Marines Corps, to other Marines it’s me representing Combat Camera and I feel like working in the most professional manner and satisfying whoever you’re servicing is something to strive toward.

>What I like about being a Marine is the reputation. Before joining the Marine Corps, we’re always taught about the Corps’ reputation compared to the other branches of service and the reputation is what sucked us all in. Being a part of the organization is a good feeling to have and it makes me proud about the choice I’ve made so far.

>If I could pass down some advice that my father gave me before I joined it would be, “Do something you love, not something you have to.” Photography is something that I love, being a Marine is something that I love and I didn’t want to be something that other people wanted me to be. I didn’t want to please others, I wanted to please myself and I’ve been happy ever since. You don’t have to join the Marine Corps, you don’t have to learn photography but if you have a passion, you can turn it into a career and eventually turn it into a life-style and you’ll be happy for life.

>I feel like I’m a better person than I was before the Marine Corps. Back then I didn’t know what direction I was going but this time around I feel like I know exactly what I’m going to do. There’s a little bit of a question of how but that’s normal. I’d rather go through life knowing where I’m going than going through it with closed eyes.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms