By Natalea Hillen

It all started one day when a 12-year-old boy, Carlos Jativa, saw a commercial on TV that changed his life.

“I saw a commercial of a dude scaling a rock, and once he got to the top of the rock he fought a dragon. Once he defeated the dragon, he earned his sword and his dress blues, and you got to see him transform and that is what instantly made me want to be a Marine,” he said.

At that exact moment, he knew from the start that he wanted to serve for the U.S. Marine Corps. Jativa  is a 33-year-old veteran who served in the 1st Battalion  8th Division Second Marines from 2006 and was officially done on March 30, 2012. He was in straight infantry the entire time, he said. Jativa served for a total of six years, as he had to be separated from the Marines for medical reasons, which resulted in him serving an additional two years.

He joined the Marines at 17, directly after graduating from Brentwood High School in New York on June 25, 2006, and he was in boot camp by June 27, 2006, even though he was legally not allowed to enlist in the Marine Corps yet. He turned 18 in boot camp,

Jativa described where his boot camp was and explained what it was like.

“Boot camp for anyone east of the Mississippi River goes to Paris Island, South Carolina, which is probably the worst island you will ever visit in your life. I was 17 down there,” he said. “Growing up my dad was always nice and strict, but he wasn’t super strict. We got our typical discipline, but it was nothing compared to what I would face in boot camp, with all the screaming, all the yelling, do this, do that, run there, and the physical endurance. And you still had the mental and emotional things you had to deal with. It was hard

Jativa enlisted in the middle of the summer, and he had to deal with very high temperatures in South Carolina, which made it even more difficult to get everything done.

He felt distraught at boot camp. Psychologically he didn’t know how to deal with the struggles, and he wanted to leave when he was only there for a little bit. Jativa had to adjust to all the rules and regulations the boot camp gave the recruits. They were all given one phone call first showing up and were only able to read from a script when talking on the phone.

“It went along the lines of, ‘Hey this is Carlos,” he recalled. “I made it safely to South Carolina. This is the last phone call you will get from me. Please write to me at this address. You were not allowed to say anything else. You had to read straight from the script, and if you didn’t you would get in trouble.”

Then the way the soldiers communicated with their loved ones was just through sending and receiving letters.

After boot camp, Carlos was stationed in Camp Lejeune, which is in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Jativa handled rifles in the infantry.

He was deployed to Iraq twice out of the six years served and faced many problems that he had to persevere through and solve on a day-to-day basis. Throughout the job, he not only had to know how to shoot a rifle, he said, but also Jativa also had to learn a lot of mathematical problems as well.

“If you must oversee calling in for fire or finding out a grid azimuth, or land navigation, that is all based on degrees and compasses,” Jativa explained. “Things you must use your mind to do. Back in the day, there were no GPS [devices]; we just had our compasses.”

Overall, with all the hardships and difficult times, Jativa said he made deep friendships and made memories that he will never forget. He recalled a funny story from boot camp,

“At the end of the night, the drill instructors would always have us chug a whole canteen. They would have us fill it with water to chug it. So luckily, we were at the end of the line, and my one buddy across from me had to pee bad,” he said. “He was doing the pee dance because he had to pee so bad. So he hid behind his bed and peed in the canteen that we had to drink from. The drill instructor was coming, and I was trying my hardest to get him to hurry up. He had to bring it out because we only had one of them. At this moment, the drill instructor was telling everyone to open their canteens. Luckily for him, I had an extra one, and just in the nick of time he was able to swap them.”

When he got out of the service, he earned his associate degree at Community College of Allegheny County, worked at Lowes and as security at Western Psych, attended the Allegheny County Police academy and joined the Hampton police force in Ohio Township as a part-time officer. Now an Allegheny County Sheriff Office detective, Jativa is currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program for a criminal justice degree at Point Park University.

Jativa said he gets numerous amounts of benefits as a veteran. He gets free health care and compensation with the Veteran Affairs and with the Wounded Warrior Project, as well as access to free resources, such as mental health care and veteran-related activities. His end goal is to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

“I don’t need it to get a job, but you know maybe someday I might want to do something different that requires a bachelor’s, so I would rather just want to have it, and I am getting paid to go to school. I got zero student loans, so you really can’t complain about that. I am going to try my hardest to get the most out of this year.”

Learn more about Jativa and watch the interview here.