Thirty-year-old Oskar Gonzalez-Yetzirah grew up in the small Texas town of Needville in Fort Bend County. A town with the tagline ‘Home of the Nice People’ and a population of 2,600.
Oskar describes his younger self as a rebel and a bit of an anarchist. So it was a shock to his system when it came time to conform and plan for the future, because all his friends knew what they were going to do with theirs.
"A lot of my friends were already excited about going to college and I had really actually done no work to go to college, or hadn’t any plans to do that."
With no clear goal, when a friend suggested enlisting in the military, Oskar figured it was as good an option as any. He thought he’d use his time serving his country to figure out what to do next. And after a visit to a local recruiter’s office he was officially on his way to becoming a Marine. It was as simple as that.
"And it was just something exciting, cause I had something to look forward to after graduation. When I look back at it now the best time of my life were those three months, but during those three months they were like the scariest of my life."
In 2000, Oskar trained at a Marine Corps Recruitment Depot in San Diego. Days were a blur of preparation for combat. If he wasn’t repelling down walls, he was working out on an obstacle courses or shooting rifles. But there was no real goal of taking these skills into combat, until.
"Well I was coming back on base September 11th and I was picking up my dry-cleaning. I go to the chow hall and Marines are just standing up watching these TVs and I’m looking at this building burning and then they got us all together and we’re like, 'I don’t want go to Afghanistan.' And then they pulled a big loop on us and said, 'No you’re going to Iraq.'"
From that day onwards, September 11th, 2001, the reality of serving in the military hit home for Oskar.
"I didn’t sign up for the Marine Corps thinking I was gonna go fight a war. I mean, I’m signing up for the Marine Corps, because I had nothing else to do. I mean I was going nowhere in life. But no, we were scared. I mean, I was only 19 years-old and I wasn’t ready for that."
Nor did he feel he was ready to put his Marine skills to the test.
"If there’s anything I can do better than anything right now is shoot a rifle. But when you think about it, it’s not a piece of paper that you’re shooting at the end of the day no more. It could be a real physical person and then the person that’s leading you they’ve been shooting for the past five years at a piece of paper too that’s a little scary."
Fear or no fear, by January 2003, Oskar knew he was about to be deployed and right before he left a Senior Marine offered almost fatherly advice to allay some of those fears.
"He said you guys are gonna be fine and I really took him at his word."
Oskar hoped he was right as he headed into a warzone.
And that’s where we go tomorrow to find out what life was like in Iraq for part two of our three part conversation with a veteran for this Memorial Day weekend.