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Iraq to Humboldt

One man’s journey from High School, to the Marines and now Humboldt State University.

Emilio Pena (Left) in his USMC attire

By | Andre Hascall

Being in the military and being in college share a few similarities, according to Marine Combat Veteran Emilio Pena. However, as he said, it is still impossible to compare.

“In boot camp you get used to being in close quarters with everyone, like the dorms,” Pena said. “You create those bonds with people, being close with them and going about your whole day with them.”

Pena, better known as ‘E’ to his friends, graduated High school in 2004 and almost immediately enlisted into the United States Marine Corps. Yet his contributions to the USMC were halted for a year when he broke his collarbone shortly after enlisting.

“I could tell that my recruiter thought that I was faking to get out of what i signed up for,” Pena said. “But once I healed up they sent me to boot camp in San Diego a couple weeks after.”

Pena says that his favorite food are corndogs. He refers to himself as “super basic” because of this. “We didn’t have full kitchens in the barracks,” Pena said. “So I’m used to eating frozen foods.”

Spending time at boot camp in San Diego led to Pena getting even more training, this time in North Carolina going to school for the USMC.

After school, Pena got his first taste of being overseas when he was sent to Japan for two years. “Japan was crazy. It was fun. It was crazy fun,” Pena said.

Pena spent his time in Japan at an age where many people start their college careers. Pena said it was Japan where he did most of his growth, from a boy to a man.

“There were plenty of people that were college aged, out and about,” Pena said. “It was great, I was the same age as them but without the homework.”

Whenever Pena had some free time he made the most of it. Pena said that Japan nightlife is a huge party, every night.

When specifically talking about Japan, where Pena spent most of his time as an active member of the USMC. Pena says that he made friends for life out there.

“Once you leave that Environment there is nothing else like that,” Pena said. “I guess it would be similar to being on a sports team.”

Pena is a fan of sports. ” I like the Sharks, the Yankees and the Raiders,” Pena said. “I love basketball too much to pick a team, I enjoyed watching Charles Barkley play, but I’m a Kevin Garnett fan for life.”

After his stint in Japan, Pena went back to boot camp in San Diego for a few months, and shortly after spent nine months overseas in Iraq. Tours usually last six months, but Pena left the US early and stayed in Iraq late.

“I left early and stayed later because of the money, that part made it worth it,” Pena said. “Overseas i got to work with expensive equipment too, so I was constantly flying over Iraq.”

Fast forwarding to 2014, when Pena started his journey at Humboldt State. The Student Veteran Association was able to help Pena out right away.

“I was living in my car when I got up here, Kim who runs the SVA saved me” Pena said. “Kim Hall helped me get a place to stay Fall 2014, I still live there now.”

E even recalled other times when he was able to call on Kim Hall for help, and she delivered. Specifically noting a time that she helped E stay in school, despite Academic Probation.

“She helped me a couple times,” Pena said.

Aside from the SVA, Pena used other outlets to get acclimated to the college life. He joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity and has retained relationships through them. But he says most friends he has were made on the court.

“I started balling at 11 when I got cut from my football team,” Pena said. “Now I play intramural ball on Tuesday nights, as well as Thursdays and Fridays.”

In his 30’s, Pena says that basketball is the best way for him to get himself to workout. Playing against younger people help out with that.

“I got 20 years of experience,” Pena said. ” I don’t got the same moves as I used to, but when you know where to be and what to do, you can still put it down.”

Pena is finished with his bachelors degree in Psychology, but he is staying in Humboldt for a while longer as he works on his GPA. Pena is contemplating going to Grad school, but he will take on these tasks as they come.

“Hey I’ll try to get my PhD if they let me,” Pena said with a chuckle. “But after that I hope to be a Combat Veteran counselor, and help make a difference.”

*Emilio Pena and Andre Hascall are both members of Kappa Sigma fraternity

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