Honor. Courage. Commitment. These are the core values instilled in Marines from the moment they set foot on the yellow footprints at a Marine Corps recruit depot until the time they take off their uniform for the last time. When they raised their right hand and swore to defend the U.S. Constitution, they knew it would come with great sacrifice. Family, school and personal freedoms take a backseat to mission accomplishment.
Nobody is more familiar with these sacrifices than Cpl. Mike Wong, 24, a former City College student who returned in February from a six-and-a-half month deployment to Afghanistan.
In 2008, with America still engaged in two wars—Iraq and Afghanistan—Wong heard his call to serve. Despite being a full-time student and working part time at a local ophthalmology practice, he enlisted anyway.
More than two years into his enlistment with no deployments under his belt, he finally received the news. Wong would be deploying to Afghanistan the following summer. However, instead of being ordered to go, he volunteered.
“I was excited when I found out I was going,” says Wong, a landing support specialist with 4th Landing Support Battalion, based at Sharpe Army Depot in Lathrop, Calif. “I signed up for it so I was glad I got to go.”
Though he was eager for his chance to serve overseas, he soon learned the harsh realities of war.
Within weeks of his July 2011 arrival at Forward Operating Base Jackson in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, a suicide bomber driving an explosive-laden vehicle detonated at the base’s entry control point. Wong, whose job it is to load and unload helicopters, assisted with transporting the wounded Marines.
“We took a lot of casualties that day,” says Wong, in a somber tone. “We were the ones who Medevac’d the wounded. That was a real eye-opener.”
Creature comforts, such as having running water and bathing on a regular basis, were luxuries not afforded in Afghanistan where temperatures easily surpassed 100 degrees in the summer months.
“I once went two-and-a-half months without taking a shower,” Wong says braggingly. “My camis could stand up by themselves. I stunk!”
Because of the volatile situation in Afghanistan, family members kept their eyes on the news. Wong was sometimes able to communicate with his family, but some weeks they would hear nothing at all.
“It was stressful,” says Chris Wong, Mike’s older brother and a former Marine. “You didn’t know if he was going to get blown up or something.”
In the months leading up to his deployment, Wong spent time training in Washington, North Carolina and Southern California. It was in Southern California at the Marine Corps’ Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where he received a negative page 11 entry in his service record book—the military’s version of a slap on the wrist.
However, months later, while in Afghanistan, Wong was honored with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for superior performance of his duties.
“He definitely deserved it,” says Sgt. Daniel De Lashmutt, who was in charge of Wong in Afghanistan. “He did a good job helping set up two hasty landing zones and supporting infantry and re-con units.”
Now that he’s back, Wong is looking forward to taking it easy for a while and then resuming school in the fall at Sacramento State University, he says. Though he’s not sure if he will return to Afghanistan in the near future, Wong says he would be eager for the opportunity.
“I hope I do get to go again,” he says, “but I promised my family I wouldn’t go volunteering again.”