Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan --
Departing his home in Bogota, Colombia, at the age of six, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Juan Carpanzano, a combat photographer with 3rd Marine Division, grew to take his place among the many distinguished Hispanic Americans who have served in the United States Marine Corps.
We sat down with Lance Cpl. Carpanzano to discuss his journey of becoming a U.S. Marine, starting from his first steps on American soil.
“I remember getting off the plane clutching my stuffed toy,” said Carpanzano. “The sky was grey, snow had just started falling, and it was my first time on American soil. I was so nervous. I can barely recall anything from that day besides the snow and the new feeling of the bitter cold.”
While growing up in his new home of Westchester, N.Y., Carpanzano noticed distinct differences between his upbringing and the other children in the neighborhood, particularly in the value his family placed on respect and discipline.
“A huge part of being Hispanic is respect,” said Carpanzano. “Growing up, my mom would constantly preach that she didn’t settle for anything other than the highest standard.”
It was this appreciation for respect and discipline that first attracted Carpanzano to the Marine Corps.
“Just like with my family, respect also plays a large role in the Marine Corps,” said Carpanzano. “Treating everyone equally is as important in the Marine Corps as it is in our culture.”
According to Carpanzano, his family initially rejected his decision to enlist.
“It wasn’t the easiest idea to pitch,” he said. “I blind-sided my parents. The first thing my mom asked me when I told her I was going to join was, ‘Do you think I don’t love you?’ In her mind, I was joining and going to war. She didn’t realize the opportunities the military could provide for a young adult and that there’s a lot more to the Marine Corps than just combat.”
Carpanzano recalled how quickly his family’s attitude changed upon his graduation from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. His entire family attended the graduation ceremony, where they proudly displayed his platoon number and even shed a few tears of pride.
“I remember when I first saw my dad in the crowd at graduation,” said Carpanzano. “It was one of the only times I can recall seeing him cry. The picture of me at graduation has been his Facebook profile picture for over the past two years. They were very proud.”
After training, Carpanzano reported to 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa, Japan, where he works with social media and creates outstanding content, said Gunnery Sgt. Steven Cushman, operations chief, Communication Strategy and Operations Section, 3rd Marine Division.
“Lance Cpl. Carpanzano is eager and motivated,” added Cushman. “Honestly, his story is really incredible. He came to the U.S. as a kid, not really knowing the language, but he adopted his new country, became a citizen and was even compelled to serve as a U.S. Marine.”
Carpanzano said being a Hispanic Marine gives him a unique sense of pride.
“Being Hispanic and serving in the Marine Corps really fills you with a sense of pride and gives you a new appreciation of honor-- even more than before joining,” said Carpanzano. “For the Marine Corps, you earn the right to wear the uniform. You earn the eagle, globe and anchor. In the Hispanic community, you earn the right to carry your last name; to put forth the name of your family. I’ve noticed that pride and honor are integral to both: the U.S. Marine, and Colombian sides of my life.”