Call of duty: an SMC student vet on forging a path through life
Dressed in comfortable clothes, Santa Monica College student Francisco Muñoz sits at a stone table outside SMC's Liberal Arts building enjoying his bowl of cereal. The sky is nothing special that day but every so often he takes the view in with a quick glance as he scoops spoonfuls of milk and cheerios. No one would ever suspect that this mild-mannered student is a Marine. Muñoz was first introduced to the Marines when he was invited to a physical training session by his brother’s friend. In that environment, Muñoz noticed that the Marines had a certain passion about them, but he didn’t quite understand it yet. Curious, he asked them everything he could about what they brought to the table, but he still thought there was a "catch." It would be a while before Muñoz realized that the “catch” was that he would have to be fully committed to the lifestyle the Marine Corps presented.
Signing paperwork is just the first step towards becoming a U.S. Marine. Next, he had to sign up for boot camp, what Muñoz describes as the most significant part of the journey.
“[Boot camp] really breaks you down,” Muñoz said. “You’re completely isolated from everything. You learn a new language. You learn a [world], something different. It’s a different mindset and for thirteen weeks you have no communication with the outside world,” he added.
Over several months, Muñoz learned everything from shooting weapons to learning his drills and basic education. He remembers it being a completely different lifestyle than the one he was used to living.
“The idea is, always challenging yourself. Like, you have to pick things up or you don’t deserve it,” he said.
Even more visceral than the experience of boot camp, however, was the experience of leaving home. Muñoz admits wanting to leave home because of family issues but what he didn’t count on was how much he’d miss his friends.
For the most part, he believes his family hasn’t been too supportive of him, but mostly because they don’t understand his lifestyle.
“They’re proud of me, of course, but it’s just something so new to them and they don’t know anything about it,” Muñoz said. “So they don’t really know how to react to it.”
He feels that his family thinks him arrogant at times as well, but he reassures himself constantly of his own self-described humility.
His perception of himself doesn’t stop others from believing what they will about him, though. As with the general conception of the U.S. Marine in mainstream media, people often assume he’s brash and physical. It’s a caricature of the Marine that Muñoz is not particularly fond of, as he feels it highlights the failure to understand Marines and soldiers in general.
Veterans Resource Center faculty leader Linda Sinclair discussed how different and shocking the cultural shift can be between civilian life and military life saying, "if i went from working full time to taking care of a child, it would be a heck of a big adjustment."
She elaborates on the shift from learning the military culture to going back to civilian life for the student vets she's worked with over the years. "They went from one culture to another," said Sinclair. "It would be a big difference because they don’t know the culture."
Sinclair points to some of her student vets' experiences saying, "Some of our veterans still come back and get really awful questions posed to them by civilians like, 'Did you kill any children? How many people did you kill?' and those are not appropriate questions." She adds "very few people would ask those inappropriate questions, but it only takes one or two."
“People don’t understand what it means to wear that uniform,” says Muñoz. “To be out there, not knowing what’s going to come next. To have a sense of desire to go out there, and do what you have to do.”
Sinclair attested to the power of a background in military training, pointing out our own SMCPD sergeant Jere Romano's actions during the shooting on campus last year. "[Romano] said his marine training just kicked in," said Sinclair.
Back outside of the Marine life, Muñoz has dedicated himself to his involvement with the Student Veteran's Association at SMC, where he has acted as treasurer. Jennifer Garcia, president of the SVA, sums up Muñoz as being passionate, noting how he is highly dedicated to helping homeless veterans find homes and shelters. "Once he gets his mind on an idea, he looks into it and he doesn’t back off of it,” Garcia said.
He often finds it hard, however, to juggle two worlds and his two very different personalities: his “normal” identity and his “Marine” identity.
“Let’s say if I was to have drill tonight,” Muñoz says. “I’d have to go get a fresh shave, get my uniform ready, prepare for the mission that we’re going to have this weekend. And we’ll go and as soon as I wake up, I’ll know that I’m not that kid back in school anymore.”
Because of how rigorous it can get, he’s often found himself regretting the Marine life, but that feeling of uneasiness is normal, according to him.
“I don’t know anybody that could ever say that at some point in time they didn’t regret it,” Muñoz says. “It’s a love-hate thing. You love it because it represents something so much more and you’ve overcome so much physically and mentally, and it’s just such a good feeling when you’re there among your own family that you’ve created.”
Despite any minor doubts, Muñoz is a Marine through and through. He has entrenched himself so much in the Marine way of life that he cannot picture himself outside of it anymore.
“I honestly can’t even remember who I was back then,” he says, trying to fathom a version of himself that never joined the Marines. “I’m hoping I would have made it to the city, but I probably would have been stuck in my small town and worked or something.”
This Veterans Day, Muñoz decided he would be studying, as he’s still set on being a successful student while embracing the Marine life.
“Integrating both [ways of life] is something I’m honored to be a part of. I can’t necessarily say I know where my life is taking me, but I hope that it’s a good joyful life.