CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- For 20 year-old Marine Sgt. Victor Farinas “Ohana,” or family, is everything.
The Aiea, Hawaii, native deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan during Feb. 2014 with 1st Marine Regiment, the last Marine regiment to serve in Afghanistan during the Operation Enduring Freedom campaign and past 13 years of war. On Aug. 15, 2014, 1st Marines cased their battle colors for the final time and will head back to Camp Pendleton by the end of the month.
Farinas joined a hand selected group of 45 Marines from the regiment who led Task Force Belleau Wood, and the overall security of Regional Command (Southwest) during their time in Helmand.
He joined the Marine Corps Mar. 5, 2012, seeking a leadership challenge and also to set a good example for his two younger brothers. Farinas said his family supported his decision to enlist and knew he would be a strong leader in the military.
“I really get that drive from my family,” said Farinas.
He said the Marine Corps was enticing for the pride and leadership opportunities.
“The one thing that I like about the Marines is that they are very prideful,” said Farinas. “The fact that you are a Marine, you could be in any job and be proud that you are a U.S. Marine.”
Farinas graduated from Moana Lua High School in Hawaii during 2012.
During high school, Farinas served as a captain for both the track and football teams. He also served as a leader of the school’s Fellowship of Christan Athletes, a religious leadership group for high school athletes. During his junior year, he suffered a near career-ending injury including a broken collar bone. Despite his injury, that didn’t stop him.
Farinas said his leadership extended into the classroom where he pursued business education with Delta Epsilon Chi and Distributive Education Clubs of America, a program that prepares emerging leaders in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools across the globe.
He said his high school experiences taught him fundamental leadership traits that he maintains in the Marines.
“I’ve always been in a leadership role, and I like that,” said Farinas.
Some of Farinas’ high school teachers supported his decision to enlist, including a few former Marines who shared their experiences serving in the Marine Corps.
“I had a lot of teachers and mentors who talked to me and provided mentorship,” said Farinas. “They liked the idea of me joining the military and saw my leadership capabilities and if I was looking into it, they wanted to support me.”
His homeroom teacher also served in the Marines and inspired his decision.
“I liked the way he carried himself,” said Farinas. “I liked the experiences he shared with me even though he was out; he still shared positive stories.”
Before leaving for recruit training, Farinas said he spent his time at the local recruiter’s office working out and learning about the Marines.
“I had to wait to enlist to go to bootcamp,” said Farinas. “I was in the delayed entry program for eight months and I appreciated that time to train and gain knowledge.”
When Farinas left Hawaii for Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, he said he was eager for the unknown challenges ahead. From the start of the grueling 13 week training, Farinas said he was in a leadership role from start to finish. Farinas served as the platoon’s guide, and led more than 60 Marine hopefuls during physically and mentally challenging events.
“It’s the whole one team, one fight,” said Farinas. As the menacing drill instructors bore down the recruits, Farinas said, “they would yell ‘there’s always one,’ so I would tell the platoon, well, let’s give them one!”
He said his time serving as the guide was a challenge, but a positive experience in testing his leadership abilities in a stressful environment.
“You have to account for everyone,” said Farinas. “You really have to work hard, and if you are not, then who is going to follow you?”
By the end of recruit training he served as the platoon’s guide as well as platoon honor graduate. Farinas said although it was initial training he wanted to inspire his peers to accomplish the mission at hand.
After graduating recruit training, Farinas headed to Marine Combat Training at the School of Infantry – West aboard Camp Pendleton, California, a basic infantry skills school for all Marines.
Farinas said three of his peers were inspired by his leadership style and aloha spirit.
“Being from Hawaii it’s all about Ohana,” said Farinas. “Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind. The one thing that everyone thought about when they met me was Lilo and Stitch,” a Disney movie based on animated characters from Hawaii.
One weekend three of his fellow class leaders ventured into San Diego to get tattoos on their biceps with that saying, “Ohana.” Farinas said the tattoos were voluntary of course, but a lasting mark of his character left on the Marines.
When he enlisted, Farinas signed up to become a field radio operator.
He said that he did not necessarily have his sights set on that, but due to the choices available at the time, he was satisfied and would make the best of it.
After graduating MCT, he traveled to Marine Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, for his military occupational specialty training. The school was five months long and tested Farinas and the other students in the sweltering heat of the desert Marine base.
“I treated it like everything else; I was just humble and hungry,” said Farinas.
Farinas’ innate leadership abilities continued to shine after he left the school. He checked into his first unit, 1st Marine Regiment, aboard Camp Pendleton, Dec. 1, 2014.
The unit is full of history. During 2013 it celebrated its 100th anniversary and reflected on past battles during the Caribbean Banana Wars, World War II Pacific Campaign, Korean Conflict and Vietnam. The regiment was also the last regiment to leave Vietnam more than 40 years ago.
Farinas said it was inspiring to join the unit considering its history.
“My first thought was ‘wow;’ I am going to be a part of something that has a lot of history,’” said Farinas.
“Thinking about it, obviously I heard about Chesty Puller,” said Farinas. Lieutenant Gen. “Chesty” B. Puller served as the unit’s commander during the Pacific campaign and is one of the Marine Corps’ most decorated Marines. “It was pretty cool to go to Chesty’s regiment,” he added.
Farinas said he was eager to make a name for himself and do his part to be a part of the legacy and honor of 1st Marines.
He was promoted to corporal on Apr. 1, 2013. With his new radio operator skillset in hand, he was thrust into an important leadership role with the unit.
During a unit conditioning hike through the steep rolling hills of Camp Horno, Farinas recalled a story with the 1st Marine Regiment Commanding Officer, Col. Peter Baumgarten.
“We did this hike in boots and utilities to the hills of Camp Horno,” said Farinas. “We hiked out to the crosses that represented the Marines who were fallen, and I was talking to (Baumgarten) about myself.”
Farinas said he enjoyed the conversation with Baumgarten who spoke with him on a personal level.
When they reached the end of the hike, Baumgarten leaned over and said, “Cpl. Farinas, I want you to be my radio operator.”
“I thought that was really awesome,” said Farinas. “He asked me, ‘Can you handle this?’ I said, “Of course, sir.”
Farinas said he was ready for the leadership opportunity.
“They saw that I was willing to learn and hungry,” said Farinas.
His first major assignment was serving as Baumgarten’s radio operator during the multi-national amphibious exercise Dawn Blitz during June 2013.
Farinas said he had to maintain communications at all times during the exercise which included forces from Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
“I had to maintain accountability of the gear and mitigate any communications mistakes before they happened,” said Farinas.
The regiment participated in a large scale amphibious landing on Camp Pendleton’s Red Beach where Farinas was put to the test by Baumgarten’s side as the Marines landed in force on the shore via Landing Craft Air Cushion, waterborne hovercrafts.
“When we landed I had to make sure that the radios were functional, able to communicate with the combat operations center and get radio checks with all of the subordinate units,” said Farinas. “Things went by so quickly.”
Farinas and his wife, Kirsten, met through her sister. Farinas and Kirsten’s sister were friends since middle school and later served together as co-captains on the high school track team, as well in the high school band.
He said he and Kirsten first started talking to one another at her sister’s 20th birthday party during 2010.
“We just hit it off and clicked automatically,” said Farinas. “I said, ‘I have to get to know her.’”
Farinas said it was without question love at first sight.
“I would have to say so,” he added.
The couple married during a small courthouse ceremony, Apr. 15, 2013.
He said that the couple at first did not tell their parents, but were supported when they broke the news.
“We had a plan, and they saw that plan,” said Farinas. “They did support us because they saw our maturity.”
Due to the announcement of the deployment, Farinas said they decided to postpone a larger ceremony to include family and friends, but that one was planned when he returns from Afghanistan.
Farinas said it was hard to leave his wife, although she is accustomed to the military lifestyle. Kirsten’s brother and father both served as officers in the Army.
“This is my first time being away though,” said Farinas. “I think it’s different when it’s your husband.”
Farinas said he was excited for the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan with 1st Marine Regiment. While deployed, Farinas was meritoriously promoted to sergeant, May 2, 2014.
“I was ready to put in work,” said Farinas. “I joined the Marine Corps to experience a deployment.”
Baumgarten called on him to serve in the combined joint operations center.
“Normally I am a radio Marine, but they pulled me to the operations shop for the deployment,” said Farinas.
Day to day, Farinas supported the task force as the watch noncommissioned officer. He maintained radio networks in order for the security force to be able to communicate with subordinate units conducting security operations outside the wire. He said he was also in charge of supervising two common operational pictures, or a computer-based picture of where units were operating and what incidents were taking place.
“You do it to the best of your ability, not just because it’s your job, but it’s for the whole mission.”
Farinas said he was required to gather the information and display it quickly on computer systems for the task force and regional command to review.
“I was used to working with radios,” said Farinas. “The challenge was learning this whole new role of trying to paint the picture to build the commander’s situational awareness with factual information of what is going on in the battlefield to support the unit taking contact.”
Farinas said he also had the opportunity to work with the task force’s coalition partners.
“When I first got here, there was Jordanian, Georgians, Bosnians, Tongans and United Kingdom. You really had to have a feel for other people and just get to know them more,” said Farinas.
“When I think about it, I look back and think, what did we do to make a difference in terms of working with coalition forces,” said Farinas. “We showed that we can work with others as a cohesive unit to accomplish a mission.”
“I am very thankful for the experiences I got out here and to do my part to support the defense of the Bastion-Leatherneck Complex,” said Farinas.
On Sept. 5, 2014, Farinas will celebrate more than two and a half years in the Marine Corps. He has participated in large military-to-military training exercises, deployed to Afghanistan and earned a meritorious promotion to his current rank.
Career-wise, next he is entertaining the option of becoming a drill instructor, a Marine recruiter, or submitting a package for the Marine Corps - Enlisted to Commissioning Program to become a Marine officer.
“I will have to see what is best for my family and myself,” said Farinas.
His wife is currently attending courses in Hawaii for accounting and finance. Later this year she will return to San Diego to live with Farinas.
He said if he were to leave the Marine Corps he would pursue working in professional football and possibly sports marketing. His favorite National Football League team’s mantra has inspired him.
“One thing that has always stuck with me is the Oakland Raiders mottos, ‘commitment to excellence and just win baby,’ said Farinas.
“I have a lot of options.”
In the meantime, he is looking forward to seeing his wife after a successful deployment, including a trip to Disneyland to celebrate his return.
“I can’t wait to see her,” said Farinas. “I love her very much, and I’m looking forward to seeing her and I want to tell her ‘Mahalo,’ thank you, for being very supportive.”
While the couple is not immediately looking to raise a family, the plans exist, including continuing the Disneyland tradition.
“When we do have our children we want to take them to Disneyland,” said Farinas. “I want to have one of those family portraits in front of the castle.”
It is clear that his Hawaiian spirit continues to inspire Farinas and those around him.
“I want to leave my legacy, and by that I mean, how can I influence and motivate people,” said Farinas.
“I plan on spreading that uplifting aloha spirit, that good aura, to everyone I meet."