Sergeant Fernando A. Brea did not join the Marine Corps for the some of the most common reasons you would hear when you ask a Marine why he or she enlisted. He did not join to follow someone’s footsteps, and he didn’t join to avenge the falling of the twin towers.
Brea did not hit rock bottom either, however, he felt he needed to re-prioritize his goals.
His parents, both first-generation emigrants to the United States, settled in Bronx, N.Y., and had Brea, their second child. A year later they moved to Union City, N.J., where their family lived until Brea turned 16.
“I lived a normal childhood, I went to school, played sports, nothing out of the ordinary,” said Brea, senior intelligence analyst with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
He was the first in his entire family to join the service, and did so without any real military influences and little to no knowledge of the Armed Forces.
Brea said his older sister is a big influence on his life. Before the military he followed her example and attended college immediately after high school.
“I went to Florida Atlantic University for two years working toward a broadcast journalism major, but my focus was off,” said Brea.
At that point, he was working full-time to pay for his education and his grades were starting to slip.
“I talked to my father one day when I was at a crossroads in my life—my grades were tumbling—and he mentioned the military,” Brea said. “He didn’t specify any one branch, he just thought the military would help get my priorities right.”
At the time, Brea had a friend that was just finishing Marine Corps boot camp and was given the opportunity to attend his graduation.
“That single moment did not make me want to join the Marine Corps, but it definitely opened my eyes,” Brea admitted.
Brea took his father’s advice and checked out all of the different branches before making a decision. After checking out his options, he decided he wanted to be a Marine combat correspondent—which is most similar to his broadcast journalism major.
“The recruiter told me that the combat correspondent [Military Occupational Specialty] was closed out, so I picked intelligence as a second option,” said Brea.
After completion of his MOS school, Brea was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He spent two years there before reporting to the 13th MEU in July 2006.
“The Marine Corps was the best decision I made in my entire life,” said Brea. “I got to live in Japan for two years, supported humanitarian relief and met my future wife.”
Brea met his fiancé, a Navy corpsman, when he was admitted to the hospital overnight after having his tonsils removed in December 2006.
“She was the corpsman on duty,” he said. “I thanked her for taking care of me and asked to take her out to dinner, but she turned me down.”
Brea said she continued to turn him down due to the policy stating corpsman cannot date patients, so when he was released he called and asked her again—she said yes.
For Brea, his decision to join the Corps was the best choice he has ever made. His mother, a native of Ecuador, was weary of him joining the service, but now is what he calls the “typical Marine Corps mom.”
“If you walk into my mom’s house, you would think I was dead from all of the pictures of me in my uniform,” Brea laughed. “It looks like a memorial.”
His father, who hails from the Dominican Republic, remains proud. Both of his parents noticed a change in him for the better, and he noticed one himself.
“I’m definitely more mature and re-focused,” Brea stated.
Looking back, Brea is most proud of his efforts in Indonesia with the humanitarian relief after a tsunami hit the country in 2004.
“I always did volunteer work but nothing like that,” said Brea. “Growing up in New Jersey, I never thought I would be a part of something like that, or live in Japan for two years.”
Brea has been in the Marine Corps for six years now and said he plans on retiring after 20 years. He also plans on returning to school and finishing up his broadcast journalism degree.
He says his drive to continue his service derives from knowing that no matter where he gets stationed, he can make a difference just by doing his job.
“The reports I gather and present have the potential to save lives,” said Brea. “Not many people can say that.”
After obtaining his bachelors degree, Brea would be eligible to pursue an officer career, but plans to remain enlisted.
“From my observation of both the enlisted and officer ranks, I feel that enlisted Marines have more influence on junior Marines, and to me that’s what it is all about— making a difference,” Brea added.