MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.-- -- When Nicholas A. Grafton, a native of Algonac, Mich., left for Marine Corps recruit training in Parris Island, S.C., he had rarely crossed outside his state lines, much less been on an airplane. Today, the 22 year-old corporal of United States Marines boasts of his world travels, newfound sense of purpose, and plans for the future.
Living happily inside the same state borders didn’t stop Grafton from wanting to see what was out there. In fact, it showed him a few things about himself he may not have found otherwise.
“I learned that I’m not good at being tied down,” he said, recounting his high school days, where he switched the sport he played every year just to kick up dust and avoid routine. “I didn’t do too well in high school,” he admitted, “I was the one in the back left corner, asleep at my desk.”
“I tried going to college for a semester, but that didn’t work out too well. I did some cooking and construction. I worked with cement and I did a lot of warehouse-type work,” he smiled and proudly continued to name a laundry list of factory jobs he experienced. “I just got bored with one thing.”
Grafton knew he could be successful if he found a cause he could stick with, or at least that would stick to him. That’s when the idea of joining the Marine Corps became a possibility.
“It’s not really ironic,” he insists, when asked why a self-proclaimed free spirit would join such a structured organization, “I can follow rules. I just don’t like monotony.”
“I had a friend who went in the Corps, and I had talked to him after he had been through boot camp and made it to the fleet. He said it was good to go.”
With a first-hand testimony that life in the Marines “wasn’t that bad,” Grafton signed the dotted line and left his home, his parents, two older brothers, 16 aunts and uncles, and numerous cousins for a lifestyle never before adopted by anyone in his bloodline.
“I’m a big-family guy,” he concluded, after looking up in pained concentration trying to get the right count on all his relatives.
After 13 grueling weeks of boot camp and additional two and a half weeks of intense combat training, Grafton was assigned the occupation of Information Systems Technical Expert after scoring well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Having enlisted on an open contract, anything was a possibility.
“I didn’t know anything about computers before I joined,” he remarked. “I don’t know how that happened.”
Slightly surprised at his new assignment, Grafton attended a four-month military school before being assigned to the II Marine Expeditionary Force communications section, where his responsibilities include maintenance of the hardware and software enabling the entire II MEF to communicate electronically for day-to-day business, and also on tactical networks.
“I believe what I’m doing is definitely helping a cause,” he said.
After six months of hard work and learning the ropes of the Fleet Marine Force, Grafton was deployed to the Horn of Africa in January 2004.
“I was getting bored after six months at Camp Lejeune, and I was ready for a change. The Marine Corps gave it to me.”
“My mission (in HOA) was the same, only on a tactical network,” he said.
In his down time, he went to the beach and hung out with the locals, taking in another part of the world. “I even had a camel spit on me,” he laughed. “They’re huge animals. You hear them hawking up a loogie and you kind of freak out a little bit.”
After six months supporting military missions in Djibouti, just south of Somalia, Grafton returned to the States. There he found more changes waiting for him.
“There were new people in my shop, and I had a higher billet,” he said, noting he became a noncommissioned officer in only two and a half years. With his rank came additional responsibility.
“I’ve been back here for about a year now. I’m getting antsy again. I have a year on this duty station left, and I’m taking college classes, so that’s pretty much the only thing keeping me here.”
Grafton admitted he’s a little more settled than he would like, but also noticed positive changes in himself as a result of joining the Marine Corps. He said one of the biggest incentives to him was the increased discipline he learned that he can apply to his college education.
Whether Grafton makes a career out of the military or just uses it as a springboard to new adventures, he’s undoubtedly grateful for the foundation the eagle, globe, and anchor provides.
“I don’t know if I’ll stay in or not,” he said, “but either way, being here has made me more marketable. I’ll have better references if I decide to get out.”
“I’m looking forward to getting deployed again,” he noted, along with whatever else may come down the pipeline. “I like to be entertained. It’s all about having fun.”