On this Veterans Day, it is helpful to recall that folks enter the military for all sorts of reasons. For some, it is patriotism, others the thrill of adventure. For Leo Pollock of Browning, it was hearing stories from an elder Marine Corps Veteran.
“I used to visit Fred DesRosier a lot,” he said. “He told us stories about his adventures in the Marines so I wanted to enlist there more than any other branch.”
To that end, Leo entered the Marine Corps’ Delayed Entry program while he was still a senior attending Browning High School. Having graduated in 2000, he went through the Military Entrance Process in Butte where he was screened for physical and mental fitness, but he waited for “close to a year” before leaving for Boot Camp in San Diego, CA, the following spring.
“I left in April, and that was the culture shock, coming from a small town in Montana and going to San Diego…it was really interesting,” Leo said. Boot Camp lasted 13 weeks, in addition to one extra week when all the recruits’ records were checked for accuracy.
“There were lots of harsh wakeup calls,” he said. “You’re not going to be a little kid anymore. We’d go to bed at 10 p.m., get up at 5 a.m. and run all day. We’d learn Marine Corps history and first aid.”
Following Boot Camp, Leo was transferred to Camp Pendleton, CA, for six weeks training in weapons and combat. “That was the part I was looking forward to,” Leo remembered.
From there, he was shipped out to Maryland for training in small arms repair, followed by eight weeks of main combat training and another two weeks qualifying as a rifleman.
“I was in Maryland when 9/11 happened,” he said. “I was in an automatic rifle class, and when we heard that, we all knew we were looking at deployment.”
However, at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, mostly smaller units were deployed, and it wasn’t until February of 2003 that larger groups were sent to the Middle East, including Leo’s.
Leo was deployed to Kuwait where he served for eight months. “The biggest impression on me, in coming from a small town and having to work with different people from different parts of the country, was how easy it was for the U.S. to pull everything together in such a short amount of time,” Leo observed.
Leo also reflected on the different reasons people join up. “After serving, I really have to give acknowledgment to all those who served before,” he said. “For some, it wasn’t about going for the terrorists. It was a way to get away from home, a way to find gainful employment. Then the service becomes an extension of your family and relations that continue when you depart from the service.”
As for young people who may be considering joining the military, Leo has words of advice. “Take the time to learn about each branch, and educate yourself on the different jobs that are available in the military to make a transition easily into the civilian workforce.”
Finally, for Leo Pollock, the most meaningful things he gained from serving were only realized later in life.
“Now that I’ve been away, I have a better appreciation for life, and I’m thankful for being here,” he said. “There is so much we take for granted here that people don’t have in other places around the world.”