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Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center
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Cpl. Santiago Dominguez IV, platoon sergeant, motor transportation company, 7th Marine Regiment, learned cadence from his step-father while mowing the lawn prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps. Dominguez joined the Marines to keep his family tradition going and to make his family proud. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale

What I've Learned: Santiago Dominguez IV

29 Mar 2018 | Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

>I grew up in a town with my mom and younger sister, Christina, that had a lot of gang violence. Being a part of the violence was the “thing” to do in order to be comfortable around people, have a clique and to protect yourself.

>I have a total of four sisters and six brothers through my birth dad. They never lived with us because our father took them elsewhere. My birth father was nonexistent in my childhood years; when my mom got pregnant with me, he left for the Army.

>My mother was constantly bringing different men into our home, but none of them were my real dad so I didn’t want anything to do with them. Because I never had a good male role model, I had to learn how to be a man in different ways than the other boys I was growing up with.

>Constantly having different men come into my life taught me a lot about how to treat a woman right. I learned from their mistakes with my mother, along with how to stick up for myself. I wasn’t going to have a man who wasn’t my father come into my home and tell me what to do.

>Growing up in a neighborhood filled with crime, I learned how to be selfless. I had to protect myself, my sister, and help my mother provide for us. I was taught how to fend for survival.

>In fifth grade, I started stealing candy bars from nearby stores and selling them at school for a dollar to help pay the bills. Then, as I grew older, it escalated. At the end of the day, I would come home and tell my mom I went and mowed lawns.

>At the time, I was proud that I was doing the right thing in helping to take care of my family, but I wasn’t proud of how I was doing it. I did it for survival. I learned how to make money, whether it was honest money or dirty money. I had to help my mother with the bills, so I did what I had to do so I could contribute to supporting my family.

> Even though I was pushing obesity at a very young age, sports were a big part of my life. My main sport was football. I loved it because I could maintain the weight I had and still eat what I wanted, while also being able to take out my anger. I also participated in basketball and boxing. Eventually, I was kicked out of basketball because I was too aggressive.

>I was pushed into sports by my mother. She wanted to keep me out of trouble and I turned out to be pretty good at them so it worked out.

>Once I entered my sophomore year of high school, I joined cheerleading. I fell in love with my best friend and as a result of that, it pushed me to actually start a diet and fitness plan to lose weight so I could be with her. At the time, I didn’t know that she didn’t want to be with me because I was overweight. But, my weight plan worked, I lost the weight and was able to be with the only girl I wanted.

>At the time, my mom’s current boyfriend was a Marine drill instructor. When he noticed I wanted to lose weight he helped me. He refused to be a fit father and have a fat son who wanted to join his Corps. Ever since I was five years old, I knew I wanted to join the Marine Corps because I had other family members who had served. He taught me how to do cadence while I mowed the lawn and encouraged my diet and fitness plan.

>After I lost the weight it humbled me. I started to get a lot of attention once the weight was gone, but I only had eyes for my best friend. When she passed away, it hurt me pretty badly and it still does. The relationship I had with the other cheerleaders and her family became even stronger because of it. I was stuck in a rut for a while, until I met someone else that I had feelings for, who ended up being her best friend.

>During high school, I didn’t get very good grades in my academic classes, but during my junior and senior years I was enrolled in a paramedics course and spent time working at East Texas Medical Center, where I excelled. It was after I lost all my weight that I became fascinated with the human body and wanted to help others who struggle. I always found my interest in anatomy strange because the medical field was something that my birth father was in, so we always had that in common.

>The first time I met my real father was at my high school graduation. I felt a lot of anger toward him, but in the end someone had to be the man in the family. All of my life I sat in his chair and ate his plate of food plus mine. I realized you can’t hold grudges. He made an effort to come see me and it didn’t make up for everything, but it made up for the moment which felt pretty good.

>Three days later, I left for boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., and never saw my real father again. Boot camp was easy for me because of all the training I had received from my step-father. Once graduation arrived, my family was there to greet me, all except my real dad. I was told he couldn’t come because his wife said I wasn’t his child because we didn’t look a-like.

> I am very proud that I am a Marine because it is a family tradition and I know I made my family proud. We are the first to fight and the hardest branch to get into, so it’s definitely rewarding. I’ve been able to use a lot of what I learned growing up and relate it to the Marine Corps. All that I have endured through my life has helped me to become a better leader for my Marines.

>I am now coming to the end of my first enlistment and I’m waiting to find out if my reenlistment package has been approved. If I stay in, I would like to either go to the drill field to make Marines or become a part of the Commandant’s Own body bearers.

>If my reenlistment package doesn’t get approved, I would like to go back into the medical field and become a nurse. My step-father passed away recently and I watched all of the nurses handle situations in ways that they shouldn’t have. They also conducted procedures incorrectly as I stood there and managed his respiratory and life support machines. I never want someone else’s family to have to experience that poor type of care for their loved ones.

> My biggest role model is my mother. She not only played the role of my mother but also my father. She has always been there for me through everything and taught me the difference between pain and injury. My mother taught me to take every day, no matter how hard it is, and put a smile on my face so I don’t make someone else’s day harder.
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms