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Capt. Joseph Teirab, deputy staff judge advocate, SJA, believes it’s important to give back to the community. He ushers at his church on Sunday’s and teaches a political science course every Tuesday night. (Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Julio McGraw/Released)

Photo by Cpl. Julio McGraw

What I’ve Learned: Joe Teirab

19 Apr 2016 | Cpl. Julio McGraw Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

I was born in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minn., also known as the Twin Cities, but I grew up in a small, one stop-light town west in Southwest Minnesota called Windom.

My father was a huge influence on me. He always taught me about working and studying hard. My dad is from a small village in Central Sudan.

He’s told me about how difficult it was to get to school when he was a child, and how he would have to read under candlelight until the wee hours of the morning.

I think hearing his stories along with him instilling in me the value of a good education had a profound impact on me.

It’s immensely humbling knowing where my parents came from. They were always looking to put my brother and me in the best position possible and teach us a certain set of values.

In high school I played every sport I could. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that great at any of them but I was okay in a lot of them. At different times I played: football, basketball, baseball, golf and I ran cross-country and track.

After high school I was accepted into Cornell University in upstate New York. I started off as a pre-med major, but I eventually switched to political science.

Growing up in a small town I wanted to get out and see the world a little bit. I applied to a bunch of schools, and Cornell was the best school I got into.

After Cornell, I wanted to study law so I applied to Harvard Law School. After getting into some other good schools, I was accepted off their wait list at the last second and I thought to myself, “I gotta go.”

I became more interested in the law, culture, government and politics and how those things influence each other. I realized people’s lives can be made better through the law and through public policy. I wanted to obtain the skills and get the background to be able to make a difference in our world.

During law school, I met a former infantry officer who lost both of his legs from an [Improvised Explosive Device] in Iraq and he became one of my better friends. He told me about the Marine Corps and what it meant to him. I was already thinking about being a [Judge Advocate] in the military but I wasn’t sure of which branch. When he told me about the Marine Corps, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

I decided to become a Marine because I wanted a challenge. I wanted to grow as a person. Most importantly, I wanted to give back to the country I love, because I have been blessed with so much.

This is my first duty station. I’ve been here since December of 2013 and my job is to support the Staff Judge Advocate in providing legal advice and counsel to the Commanding General and all base personnel.

On the weekends I try to be involved in the community. I volunteer with an organization every month that provides free legal services to people in Los Angeles who can’t afford them.

I volunteer with the organization because I think it’s important to spend time doing things that don’t focus on yourself.

One big thing that I’ve taken away from the Corps, it sounds very cliché, but it boils down to the leadership principle: “Know yourself and seek self-improvement.” It jumps out to me because it implies you’re not perfect and you’re not where you need to be.

As people, we make mistakes but you have to realize that before you can even try to improve yourself.

Another thing I’ve learned is every Marine has a unique situation or background that they’re coming from that you might not gather from just looking at them. As a leader, it’s important to realize that.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms