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Heinrich was my little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sistersprogram. He grew up in Los Angeles with his mom, an older sister and a younger sister, which meant I was the only male figure in his life - the only one he had to talk to about intellectual, guy-type stuff.
Heinrich and I got together once a week, every week, for 10 years. I've seen a lot of changes in him, but nothing as dramatic, or as positive, as what I see now. This story is about how the Marines changed him.
"I had no discipline whatsoever," Heinrich said.
By changing him, the Marines changed me.
"Well, I'm not successful by any means," Heinrich said.
"No, you are successful by a lot of means and I guess that's what I'm realizing," I replied.
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Before joining the few and the proud, Heinrich belonged to the bored and the uninspired.
In high school he was a 5-star underachiever. In college his grades were so bad - he still won't tell me what they were. All I know is he dropped out.
Yet, his staff sergeant at Camp Pendleton says he's a model Marine.
"What did you do?" I asked Sgt. Chaplin.
"You teach 'em all to work as a team and put 'em in stressful situations in training," replied Sgt. Chaplin. "He'll come back more mature.
"Even more mature?" I asked.
"I don't know if I'd recognize him."
"I never really knew the value of a hard day's work until I joined the Marine Corps," Heinrich said.
The fact is, Heinrich never wanted to be in college. That was more my dream than his.
"Did you feel pressure to go?" I asked.
"Oh yea," Heinrich said.
"I think at the time I thought everybody should go to college," I said.
"I don't think college has to be the way for everybody," Heinrich replied.
"Well, I realize that now," I replied.
Ironically, we're still at odds on the issue - we've just switched sides.
"I know eventually I know I'm going to have to get out of the military," Heinrich said.
"Not necessarily," I said.
Now he thinks he may want to go back to college and I think he's doing great in the military. Regardless, that's a decision for another day.
For now, Heinrich is just happy to have found his place.
Last month he and the rest of his company shipped out for Afghanistan -- which is my new beef with the military. They hand you this whole new person to appreciate, then, all too often, ship 'em right back out again.