It was 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning, and Lance Cpl. Diego Cordova was preparing for dinner.
Cordova, who grew up in Jamaica, recently arrived in Afghanistan, where he is serving as an aviation operations specialist with the United States Marine Corps.
“I was a little nervous the first few days after arriving here until I got accustomed to the routine,” he said in a telephone interview from his base. “Not anymore.”
The 20-year-old Marine is the son of Manuel and Nancy Cordova. He was born in Ecuador and moved to the United States when he was 5.
The family eventually moved out to Long Island, and it was at West Hempstead High School where Cordova first began seriously considering the Marines.
“I enlisted when I was 17, and went straight to basic training after high school,” he said. “I’ve been a Marine two years and three days. I’m thinking about it as a career. I’d like to serve for at least 20 years, or as long as the Marines will let me serve.”
His voice brims with pride when talking about his parents and sister attending his graduation at Parris Island, SC watching him march with his training platoon on the camp’s parade ground after receiving the traditional Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin.
The pin symbolizes the transition from a recruit to a Marine.
“My family was proud,” he said. “My mom still worries, as any mom would worry about her son.”
He said his mother wrote sometimes two or three letters a day during boot camp, 13 weeks of physical and mental training and conditioning, and memorization of everything from the code of conduct to the Marine Corps Hymn, all in pursuit of the core values of “honor, courage and commitment.”
Nowadays, he uses Skype and email to touch base with home as often as practical.
But letters and packages from home, he said, whether from family, friends or through collections like the ones taken up by veterans organizations, schools, churches and civic groups, are treasured by the men and women serving overseas.
“Any time I can get a package from home that includes Jelly Bellies, my day is made,” he said. “But it’s also the support from back home that means a lot to us.”
Cordova said he sees Afghan civilians often enough, most of whom are employed in some manner by the U.S. military, though he has not had much opportunity to interact with many of them in either a personal or professional capacity.
His hitch in the country is expected to be about one year, after which he has other ambitions upon return to his unit’s home base in North Carolina.
He would like to study and train for a different kind of overseas duty with the Marine Security Guards, the detail that provides protection at United States embassies and diplomatic posts around the world.
“You need to undergo special training. Not everyone gets chosen,” he said. “But it’s an opportunity to protect Americans and American property in foreign countries.”
Aside from his family, the corporal does miss a few of the culinary delights that are somewhat more available back here at home than at his current assignment.
“On my next leave, the first place I’d go to eat would probably be McDonald’s or Five Guys,” he said.
And he would encourage any young man or woman even considering enlistment to give the idea serious thought — and be ready for hard work.
“The best advice I could give to someone interested in joining the Marines would be to make sure you give it your all,” he said. “Basic training is tough if you tell yourself it’s tough. Always give it your all.”