AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Hit with the news that he was about to be father, Johan S. Arenas knew he had to make a change and make it fast.
Arenas, now a 20-year-old machine gunner for Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, saw his life heading in the wrong direction as a troubled teenager.
Receiving failing grades in school, having repeated trouble with the law and working dead end jobs, Arenas was ill prepared to support a family.
But at the age of 17, fatherhood forced Arenas to take a hard look at his life and responsibilities.
“I knew I needed something to change in my life,” said Arenas, a native of Queens, N.Y. “If it didn’t, I probably would have ended up in jail.”
Hoping to stand up to his new responsibility, Arenas looked to military service as a way forward, targeting the Marine Corps as his new beginning.
Before that step could be made however, Arenas needed to make some changes on his own, and rise to the standards required for military service.
Arenas attended night and weekend courses to raise his grades in high school, and steered clear of previous troubles to attain his eligibility.
“The coming of my son pushed me to change,” said Arenas. “I became more focused on my family and my future.”
Arenas enlisted into the Marine Corps as an infantryman on June 23, 2004, only a month after the birth of his son on May 20, 2004.
Although Arenas had already taken strong steps in the right direction in order to join the Corps, becoming a Marine gave him the qualities and support he needed to support a family.
“The Marine Corps set me up for success and I took it from there,” said Arenas, who has achieved his current rank of Corporal in less than three years of service.
Since joining the Marine Corps, Arenas has been able to successfully support his family while preparing for the future.
In February of 2005, Arenas bought a house for his family through accumulated savings and a veteran’s loan.
Looking back, Arenas sees the stark contrast between the struggles of his past and the brightness of his future.
“I entered the Marine Corps with a dollar and fifty cents in my pocket,” said Arenas. “Now I’m looking to buy a second home.”
Although largely positive, there has been some adversity for Arenas during his time in the Corps.
Arenas is now on his second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, making more than 14 months of his enlistment served in Iraq.
The frequent deployment schedule has caused Arenas to miss his son’s first two birthdays, but that fact has done little to alter Arenas pride in his decision.
“I’d rather miss my son’s birthdays accomplishing something for my family and my country, than wasting my life like before,” said Arenas.
Coming up on the end of his tour in Iraq and the end of his contract with the Marine Corps, Arenas has another decision to make for his family’s future.
As the next step in his career, Arenas hopes to become a member of the New York Fire Department, but has said re-enlistment in the Corps is still a strong option.
“Either way I’m doing something my son can be proud of,” said Arenas.