Gina Berdeja and Mariko Early
DescriptionGina Berdeja [no age given] interviews her nephew Mariko "Riko" Early (24) about his decision to join the ROTC program in high school and his experiences with the different branches of the armed forces.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Gina Berdeja
- Mariko Early
Recording LocationVirtual Recording
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00:02 All right, but the best, my name is Mariko early. I go by Rico. I'm 24 years old in today's date is Thursday, August 12th. 2021. Of course, I'm in Edinburg, Texas, which is way far south practically like 20 miles, right off of the border of Mexico, and I'm here with my aunt. Her name is Gina berdeja. I've known her since I was 8, maybe 9 years old, so, she's been around for a long time, and our connections through marriage, but we're definitely family and she's definitely glad I love her very much. Thank you.
00:39 Hi Rico, I'm so excited to finally be able to do this with you. I've been looking forward to it for a long time. When I first heard this on on NPR that they were doing this military voices initiative. You were the first one that I thought of because we're so proud of of all that you've done and the man that you have become, like you said, I've known you since you were. I believe eight years old. We come from a blended family like many in the United States are all over the world. I would imagine we come from a blended family. So Rico's father is married to my sister and I believe week. I was in the first or second grade when he came to live with my, my sister and, and Rico. And we also have
01:39 Lots of young kids. We have a large family. Lots of kids. So Rico fit in instantly, he was instantly, you know, a part of the family, you know, having fun with the kids getting in trouble with them and all of that. But there really is no distinction in in the fact that we go
02:03 He is, he is blessed. Like Rico said, you were blood. You are my family. We love you, and we are proud of you. So having said all of that Captain having a side that we come from a large family. Our family is also very loud. So one of my earliest memories of you and then we'll, we'll go, we'll go back to why you decided to join ROTC. But one of my earliest memories of you being an ROTC in high school, was you guys used to where you guys would do your drills right there at the end of the day so we could possibly Reach Out And Touch you. I don't know if you remember, but a couple of times. Lisa and I would see you out there and we drive by and wait, honk the horn and she lives.
03:03 We loved embarrassing, you, but we were also incredibly proud of you and she knows just had to give you a shout out of we were driving by anywhere anytime. So why don't you know, I don't think I know what prompted you to join ROTC. I mean, I knew that you were in ROTC in high school and the plan was to join the military upon graduating at 2 to play.
03:41 Okay, so outlands
03:46 It's like it's not so simple but it's not like super hard to try to understand. So basically, of course, just like any other kid. I just I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do. That's going to be for. I'm going to say at least 80% of all high schoolers. Of course, you're going to be like, oh, I think this job is cool. But you're not going to really know what you want to do, what you want to accomplish, what you had planned. Everyone's like, oh, you go to high school. You need to have plans. You his senior. You need to have plans. You need to know what you're going to do. Like there has to be some sort of respect and fruit planned for you after high school and most people don't know, don't have to figure it out. So
04:28 Basically, like you said, I was a good kid, but of course, still got in trouble and did my things in my father course, my dad.
04:38 He talked to me. Yeah, they sent me down. They talked to me and he said, who is this? My dad. And my mom, they sent me down multiple times and kept letting me know that the military has a really good deal. You learn a lot to get a lot of discipline. You have all your college funds paid for, which is what I'm utilizing right now and all the benefits. All the things, not to mention the fact that you're serving your country in your helping people.
05:11 So, you know it took a while for it to go into my head. But once I kind of got it and I got into ROTC. I enjoyed it. I liked it and it was actually really fun time and then
05:24 The reason I guess you could say that I I wanted to go to the military. It was for.
05:32 The fact that you can do almost anything in the military, there's so many job opportunities in the military or so much you can do. So, just knowing that it gave me a comfort, not only in the stability, the military but in the infrastructure, so there's so much you can do. Like I went from being
05:51 A mechanic to an electrician. And then now I'm a CB, which is still kind of hard to explain. I've only been doing this one for about a year-and-a-half two years, but basically do your wife, a CV CV is at an initial C in a B or C & N, B, e s t be. So basically, it's like, I'm a being twins. Me actual job is like, we, please steer the boat and do navigation with stuff and things like that for the boat, but because of the unit that I'm with, I handle cargo operations, so we handle taking supplies from one area to the other. Also setting up camp and base in areas where there's not very much infrastructure. So we go with civilians. Are we go with Marines, we go with whatever we go with. We do hand-to-hand combat. We do gun training. We do all sources of. So, I'm no longer on the carrier, working on airplanes. I'm now on the ground.
06:51 Game with actual tea. It was a good shift and that was 22. National Guard will talk to you but but I want to focus a little more, you know kind of on the early, you know the decision and the thought that went into
07:12 And she you going into ROTC now. I know that, you know, your mom and dad were you know as with any parent they were concerned about your future. What are you going to do? How can we influence? And I know that your dad is your mom and dad are very strict and they you know, they kept you on a pretty tight tight leash which you know, you know, sometimes I'm sure it seems like it was hard or too much but you know washing them raised you. I was always so impressed with with how you didn't rebell against them, you know, you were always so polite and kind and well-mannered and it was something that was just an undeniably endearing about you. Tell me about
08:12 Your dad and and his influence on you because you didn't come to live with him until you were eight years old. You were actually in Detroit, right? Your mom. And so you were I believe in the first grade when you came to live with your dad, tell me about his influence in your, your life.
08:35 Okay, so is that when you said you had it on the nail? I have strict parents. I don't really come from a strict parent. It was a single-parent home with four children in it in Detroit. So she had a lot of mouths to feed wasn't always around cuz she had to work or other things she would be doing. So I kind of like always on the streets, always doing things. But, you know, I'm not going to play Pastor. Yeah, she could have done better, but, you know, she's my mom. So she should be there at 4. Are you the oldest of the four children that you were in with? The second brother is the oldest and then I have two younger sisters. And so I'm at 8 to want to live with your dad and those it was such a change. I didn't know how.
09:34 I'm just going to go with this one. A huge huge reason as to why I was able to adjust so much from the last I came from to living in Texas, and the nice area where things are so much different. I have to say, was Isaiah, and then just him being there with me, like all the time. Like, that was like, tell us who Isaiah, is Isaiah, taking that is my cousin. I love him. He is Gina berdeja his sister's son. So Lisa. And yeah, I just, I love him very much. Just like, I left Christian Christian came a little bit later. But Isaiah, he would always come over every weekend and I don't know what's going on at Lisa's house when she had an apartment and he was just kind of like a strong bond from early age, even though he was a little crazy.
10:27 A lot of energy, but the whole family. Basically, I just, I just left you guys had such a, a different thing than what I was used to. I was used to just, you know, my three siblings, and my mom and then just going out and doing whatever I could to make the day go by. But when I met you guys, you guys, like I said, Natasha would take me all the time to Grandma's or if you guys are coming over, we have parties, like, for just such a different environment. I had to get used to it, had to adapt to change a lot as well, wear, a large family, Our kids are, you know, all kind of roughly the same age, you know, we probably know there could be a 10 to 15 year gap between the oldest and the youngest. But when our family gets together or family gets together and it was large and easily, there could be 25 of us and it's just family, just for fun.
11:27 Family birthday party, just keep it together. Sing. Happy birthday, have a slice of cake, you know, last make fun of each other and then, you know, and that's it. But a very large family. That's very quick, and very loud and loves to laugh, especially when someone Falls. So, yeah, Lisa and Isaiah just took you under their wing. And you were just, you were part of
12:00 Heart of a little group. When I move down we're staying at Grandma's house. Initially. That's what I meant Tysons. I see Grandma Grandpa recipes. Grandpa. I love him to death. I miss them all the time. Talk about, I still remember the picture of me and Tyson on the ottoman of the little, the little round chair. And I were there for a while before we moved on to Dallas and it was just such a dab or an adaptation for me to go from where I was to where they were and, you know, just I don't really take it in and then my dad being so stubborn and you know, do this do that and tell me about your dad. I wanted I feel like even though he wasn't in the military, he has this huge machismo. Basically like this huge.
13:00 Manly Aura. He's like, I feel like you could be a drill instructor like ever since I was little, it was, you know, do your chores, do this? You want something like a ever return something good. You want to go outside. Do you want a ice cream? You want to do this evening? Me, do, push-ups sit-ups, anything? Physical. Yes, and then, you know, from just like a young age. I was always very well kept. You always
13:29 Yeah, I feel like he's definitely military cuz you're always make me have haircuts to always short hair, which kind of explains why I love having long hair now. And I never grew it out when I was younger. If you'd always keep me clean cut, very low-cut clothes in your sneakers, had to be impeccable clean. It made me so OCD, and is so hyper attention to anything around me. I just everything has to be clean. Everything has been order when I vacuumed there. Every single spot. You have to lift this up. You have to hit that when you shampoo the carpet at the shampoo, every square inch of whatever area I was in. She just made me.
14:13 I don't know, just so easily accustomed to being in the military. I guess I had it since I was young because of him, but and I have to say that I don't think I've ever heard your dad raised his voice. I mean, just him talking than being serious enough, but I don't, I don't think I ever heard him raise his voice, not the type that so, and of course, I was scared of big 670cc, you know, I know I deserved it and it's just, it is what it is. I love him to death. I'll never stop loving him. You know, we had a hard hard but in all these things during high school cuz I grew up. I became more rebellious, of course, but of course I still respected them and love them. It's just it's just hard when you grow up a little bit, you want a little bit more space. You want to live
15:18 It's just, it is what it is. But I love him. I'm so happy with what he's done. I'm happy with how I came out and everything. I was able to do and I don't know, there's no taking that back. So call Rico, we're all proud of you and and how you've turned out and I'll bet you've become and we love. We love for Stella. She's part of the family too, and we're glad she's with us.
15:46 Okay, so
15:50 So, tell me, did you enlist right out of high school, or was there a delay in between, you know, graduating high school and enlisting?
16:01 It wasn't delivered. I procrastinated of time, I want to say like at least the summer, I procrastinated the summer and then when I'm still making up my mind, my parents are like, what are you doing? Are you going to the military? And of course, I said I was kind of rebellious and I didn't want to do it. You know, there's this whole Enigma. I guess you could say about the military about what happened where you go and what you do and you know, I was just like I don't want to go do that. I just want to be your kids and just go have fun. Then that's just not how life is. So, you know, they were like, okay. Well if you can like try to go to school and I worked I had at least I had three jobs at one point during senior year. Like I loved working before that when I was younger, my dad would not give me money. I would have to go out with the lawn mower and don't, nobody would want. I will go door to door and go mow people's lawn, or rake their grass or whatever. It took to make money, like he taught me how to get engaged to be very sore.
17:01 Efficient, not loved it, but it was a thermostat for me.
17:11 Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, haha. I was visiting you in the store in the mall where you did decals on how I will be in and I said, excuse me. Can I talk to the manager? Please was really concerned and you were like no. No. No, I have ever heard named Camille. Your dad did instill that in you working or not. Nothing is free in life. You have to work for what you want. It was a hesitation, but I was always in contact with my my recruiter. I was actually talking to multiple recruiters. I was talking to a marine recruiter and a navy recruiter.
18:11 Raiders High School.
18:14 When was the high school, the Marine the Navy one? I I went and I talked to them personally. They were over around the area and I just kind of stopped by, and I don't know, I just walked in and talk to them and told him about what I was doing and that's when I ended up taking the ASVAB, and all that good stuff. But the Marines, it's just the standardized test. Basically, it goes over like, I think for 5 a.m.
18:42 Key structures basically like to see if your mechanically inclined for electrical inclined stuff like that, but it's a general test. I'm pretty sure it's out of 100, but you could ask or based off of what you do in each of the categories and puts it together. And it gives you like a off that score based on that score at general idea of what jobs they have available for you so that I use for the better, the jobs, you get. So I was very I guess on the electrical and mechanical side. So they put me with Aviation. I was working with F-18 fighter, jets and F-35 fighter jets. Okay. So you decided to, when you were talking to a marine you said and then Air Force and you decided to join the Airforce. Okay. I thought great. Great guys, great, great organization, but they're Deb. They have a very
19:41 Different infrastructure, I was working out with them about doing everything with them. It's just, I was just young. So, you know, they're always come to my house and they're always call me. I will see him at the school and they're very, they want to watch Once they want you as soon as I can. And, of course, they need people in the, I don't know. I guess the Navy was more, chill more relaxed. So, I kind of just curve that way cuz I was Air Force ROTC during high school. Then I started talking to the Navy and the Marines, and then I ended up going with the Navy. I kind of wish I would have went with the Air Force, because the time you accumulate during High School actually forwards over towards your urine.
20:30 You're listening and actually those over. So, any rank that you had any of anything you have done that kind of goes over with you. Once you enlist with the Air Force since I was a harlot d.c., That didn't happen in the Navy which is what they had there, but it was still really good for infrastructure and you know, things like that. So did you was it at the end of the summer? After graduating high school that you and listed like you really committed to it, too?
21:07 Had to go to San Antonio to do my MEPS, which is your medical evaluation. Whatever the to pee, stand for Bay City. That's where you do, you get all your shots. You get all your paperwork done, to check your eat, all that good stuff. They getting a whole background on you there. Yes, exactly. So you got to do a little Squall, the little Squat, and walk in all the good stuff, all the good stuff to, where they can evaluate you and see if you're ready to go. So then that's when they picked my date. My date. And that's when I was told, you know, just standby just be ready to go. After the end of summer, is practically when I kicked it off. And I was sure what I was doing, and my parents were happy with a good two, three months of freedom. And then you were I remember when you went into into basic and I remember when you graduate,
22:07 I believe we're allowed to attend, and, but, but I do believe we watched you online or
22:16 I think after you graduated there, there were some videos or pictures on the website for the basic training, the the Navy basic training. They remember going on the computer and just looking through all of the pictures, looking to see if we could spot you, because we were proud of you and just wanted to see you. Did you like basic?
22:49 Basic was, wow. It was like a shock. There was so many people that dropped out. So many people that couldn't take it. It was hard. It was hard. You like all alone with a group of 90, something people all in bunk bed, sharing a room, so you're not really alone, but you have no family. And then, he's got to be like your friends. You guys got to get to know each other. You just got shaved and got all your clothes taken. It's just like a huge like shocked, so many people,
23:19 And I would imagine most of you were right out of high school. So probably the first time away from home, in the first time away from your family, that must have been difficult, and then you're in basic, which I would imagine this pretty rigorous and pretty, as demanding as what they practically call it. So basically make you exercise straight from there to get beginning and then they have this thing where you have to take three pints or a gallon water jug of water, the sit there and make you chugga. Chugga chugga. Chugga drink the whole thing. And then you go straight back into TT and, you know, some people throw up some people be able to hold it down. You got to go, run. If you do something bad. Everyone else gets beat while you stand there. So everyone gets this animosity towards you because we're getting in trouble because of something you did while you get to stay in there, you know, some people
24:17 Exactly, and it's some people like to hide food and we get in trouble that person has to stand there and watches so that we'd all be mad at him. It's just
24:26 It's like a operate basically is one. So what a person does affects the entire group, you can't move on. Did you ever feel like you were going to work for like dropping out of basic or leaving? Was there ever anything that just like almost pushed you too, but I don't think I can do this. Of course not going to lie. You like. No, I'm too strong for that. Now, of course, I can vividly remember and I know they remember cuz we actually talked about it when I came home today as in my parents and Grandma, when they dropped me off, you know, is that a hotel somewhere in San Antonio? And then they came in, drop me off in the main lobby. We said our goodbyes and they had went back out and got in the car and at that moment, you know, it just kind of
25:19 Clicked in my head and I'm like, like they're actually leaving me and I went back out and I watch the car drive down the street. And I literally cried. I think we're going to Sheetz on me and I literally like this Pride. I didn't know, I don't know. Like that moment, right? There's like, they were like, offending me, but they weren't, I could have called, you know, whatever. But I kind of just like I did. I cried sucked. It up. And I went to my room, you know, you just go to sleep next day. I flew out at 1, Chicago at like, 4 in the morning. And as soon as we landed in the airport there yelling at us and telling us to sit on the floor, and it was just hard core ever. Since after that night, Nothing Was the Same. It just went straight into military moday. Suicide. We got yelled at on the plane, but I yelled at on the ground at the sit there stuffed into a band, got driven to the facility in and it was all over. So, 8 weeks and then and then you waited for
26:19 We're at your assignment or and you were assigned to where were you? That was beautiful. It might have been like one of my favorite times of my military Adventure so far and I'm about to hit seven years. It was just a statutory, just so humid, the weather. So if I text his bipolar is storms and it's sunny and storms all the time, beautiful. Beautiful water in the facility is great. But you know, you still in the military infrastructure. So, there was so many rules and regulations. You have to follow up with you in your free time. When you got to go out and civilian gear, go to the gym, go hang out with my groceries and stuff and you have free time. You weren't getting inspected and stuff. It was great. I loved it. I love you. And how long were you there?
27:17 I was there from March. I want to say March 15th or 16th till almost August. So I was there for about 4 or 5 months. I was there for a while and I just took forever for me to get into my class. Have to go to cuz his rotations that are going through. You have to get class up to go to your next class. And then I had a night class after that and then after that I got stuck on Barracks support, which is basically you finish all your classes, but they can't send you yet. You have to wait for your plane and taking to be purchased your itinerary to be sent to the the location that you had been approved for. So I got approved for a Lemoore California. So they will Air Station Lemoore. It is interesting being in the the Navy Lemoore is completely landlocked. There isn't a body of water Within.
28:16 I don't know. It seems like I remember visiting you at that military base and just driving through all of the Orchards, send Justin Farmland in Orchards, and just nothing. You were in the middle of nowhere. I know, I didn't understand it either. I was like, what is that? And, you know, some of the instructors there were trying to tell me like, I'm sorry, like that's not the best place to go to. Like, I would have went to Washington or San Diego or you know, what actual Coast to be at a command. And no one just. So basically, it's like the
28:58 Or where I went and of course was the the shore duty of any Squadron that you would go to. So it had many squadrons there and a lot of them were attached to a belt. A lot of them did that work, but they were on rotation, we would be attached to a boat but work whenever we went on the boat at that command USS Reagan, the Washington, the Nimitz Squadron will be attached to the boat, but they would work and live at that command at that central location. It's literally,
29:31 I want to say 230 miles away from San Diego and an LA and all the actual Coast court. So, were you a part of one of those military ships? No, I, I wasn't because I was at vfa-122. So we weren't a part of any of them, but we got flown out to them to go do our work and you know, it just for us, we were ashore command. So our main thing was training pilots and training are in us as Junior. Sailors being trained to a torcon initially thought we weren't being sent out straight to the boat. We're being trained as well as the pilot. So we're working on aircraft working with them to learn new things and you were so you were stationed at Lemoore for the for the rest of your military career, which was an additional three years. Wishes. I find. I still find it. Funny that you are.
30:31 I never thought but you didn't Florida one last thing that I want to talk about is that when you went into the military, you already had a longtime girlfriend, Priscilla, you've been with her since high school since junior year, I believe. So you had already been boyfriend and girlfriend for about 2 years. How difficult was that for you?
31:04 That was very difficult. One thing on touch on before I go there is I did see water. I did go to the boat. I was just falling out. Like I want a mini Detachment. I went to Washington. I went to a place called Whidbey Island in Washington. So we'll go out on a carrier out there. And then I also went down to San Diego on time so I don't go in the water been on a boat in months, but I got to go out there and go on to water. Do all the operations, but I got as far as the longtime girlfriend. So currently we are still together. We've been going strong for a 7, almost 8 years.
31:48 Planning to be married sometime soon. Maybe, hopefully that's a topic cuz I didn't know how I did it either, you know, we've been together and we really cared about each other and she just was like
32:07 Like my backbone while I was in boot camp. I'm sure my parents will attest to this. They did not get as many calls. They were hoping for it because some of my other calls were going to her, you know, that we will remember that. And yeah, she just she was very strong and she helped me. She was like an emotional support. And as soon as I was able to see her, you know, it was just, it was great, but it was very difficult doing a whole four years without her, you know, just only being able to see her every three or four months was just stuff. It was not something, a lot of people would be able to do, I don't think at all, you know, you got your ups and downs and
32:49 A test us, aside from that, you know, just not be that, you know, that being a difficult. Something difficult in a relationship just being apart, but just making it out of clay school, you know, when you guys were parked and you guys, you know, we're growing in different ways but managed to stay together and we love for Sola and we're so happy that she's in our lives because you know, that's how it is. It's our lives and we are still together.
33:23 Mariko, is there anything else that you would like to to share with us something that I we didn't touch on or something that you would just like to share? Not exactly. I mean, I mean yes to share but we pretty much had everything. You know, I just kind of I don't know how wide are mainstream this. This will be, but just for a lot of people out there especially if you're young, even if you're not young and you know, the cutoff age to join the military, 35, you can even get into the military with the conviction. I have, you know, family members that I care about that, you know, I want to do. I want them to do the military. I want them to experience something. That's very stable and good for them. So basically what I'm trying to say is
34:13 Even if you're young, cuz of course I was young and naive and kind of dumb the most I'm going to help you had things. I need to work through in the military really helped me. So basically if you're young, if you're, if you don't know what you want to do in life, if you need help with your educational benefits, if you need help with finding something to do in life, if you're alone.
34:40 Just join the military try and give it a try. And you know, I just feel like there's so many people out there that have nothing better to do that are wasting their time better.
34:50 I don't know, just lost, I guess. And if you need an outlet, you need something to do, go talk to a recruiter, figure out, something. You don't ever, have to do anything. You don't like. So if you talk to this person and
35:05 And if you talk to the recruiter and you can't figure out what you want to do and you can't figure out anything outside of the recruiter must a college. But so you don't know what you want to do. Go to the military. I became an electrician. I was a mechanic and electrician. I was a builder. I did so many different things. I got to figure out an experienced, so many different things just in 7 years, you know, I can put that on my resume. I've never liked you, don't get those opportunities. Don't get those opportunities. Just go out somewhere. Be like, hey, I want to help you with this job. I've never heard of and nobility know you have no experience. You have no qualifications, you know, I can actually go now and do these things. Like right now, I'm doing engineering for my, my classes for my school. So I'm going to have four different backgrounds that I can put on my resume.
35:55 That'll help me get jobs. Other people can you know, it has served you? Well, most definitely, you know, I just watching you grow emotionally. Mentally just become the man that you are weak. I can see that it has served you well, and I'm sure the military will appreciate a little PSA and they might even try to recruit you to be a recruiter because that was a pretty good. That I was a pretty good call to action. Rico. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story with us, and thank you for sharing it with with me because we've never really had an opportunity just to sit down and only talk about your your military lives though. Thank you. I appreciate that. Rico out of you. We love you. And
36:47 I can't wait to see the man that she will become.
36:56 You are welcome, I believe.
37:06 All right.