Immigrants have been an intricate part in the tapestry of our nation since its foundation. Because our country is made up of immigrants, our military has its share of them – doing their part to defend it.
Lance Cpl. Ben Brobby of Africa, Pfc. Vladimir Balinovsky of Ukraine and Pfc. Abel Curicabrera of Peru are three such examples of Marines not born in the U.S. but proudly serving.
Pfc. Abel Curicabrera, Pfc. Vladimir Balinovsky and Lance Cpl. Ben Brobby born in Peru, Ukraine and Ghana respectively, showing their gratitude to the United States by serving as Marines.
These Marines were born worlds apart, but all agree that the common desire for the American dream has landed them here in Camp Lejeune.
They are on the same base, in the same platoon and in the same military occupational specialty of supply warehouse clerk with 2nd Radio Battalion, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.
Brobby and Balinovsky are naturalized citizens and Curicabrera hopes to soon be one.
Curicabrera was born in Peru and was brought to the U.S. by his Mother at the age of 10 to live with his Grandfather in Falls Church, Va.
“I am proud to be from the bloodline of the famous South American Incas, but I don’t miss the hard times of my country,” said Curicabrera.
“I remember playing soccer everyday in the dirt with no shoes on,” said Curicabrera. “Most of the houses were poorly built on the side of the hills with a few pieces of bad wood,” he continued. “My mom worked very hard so I hardly saw her.”
Moving to the states was unsettling at first, said Curicabrera. He explained getting involved with the wrong friends that resulted in expulsion from several schools.
In the nine years he’s been in the U.S. he has been to six different schools but was eventually able to earn his high school diploma from Chantilly High School in Va.
Influenced to join the military after participating in the Air Force JROTC in high school, Curicabrera remembered always being impressed with the positive change in someone from his neighborhood after they joined the military.
Also deeply affected by the events of 9/11, Curicabrera said he was destined to join the military.
Curicabrera will soon have his chance to get his first deployed experience when he deploys as part of a Military Iraqi Transition Team next month.
Also coming from a difficult background was Brobby, who was born on a continent ravaged with famine and civil war.
Brobby was born in the African country of Ghana which is rich in minerals and agriculture, but due to political struggles, had a weak economy and infrastructure issues during his childhood, he said.
“There were no phones in the city of Tema, which made it difficult for my teachers to contact my parents, it was easy to be a troublemaker,” said Brobby. “When I missed too much school, the poor teachers had to walk to my house to tell my parents.”
Brobby’s father left his family behind and came to the U.S. in the mid 1980s in search for a better life, he explained. After settling down as a cab driver in Woodbridge, Va., he sent for Brobby and the rest of his family in 1994.
Becoming a citizen in 1992, Brobby’s father wasn’t aware that he could make his children citizens by adding them to his application, said Brobby.
Brobby’s desire to be called a U.S. citizen led him to file on his own application and was officially sworn in as a naturalized citizen one month before joining the Marine Corps in September of 2005.
“I made my decision to join the Marines before I was sworn in as a citizen,” said Brobby. “Becoming a citizen was an added bonus.”
Last of the 2nd Radio Battalion’s immigrant trio was born in a country associated with our enemy of the “Cold War” era.
Balinovsky was born in Ukraine, a country that became independent from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine was also the sight of the worst accident in the history of nuclear power, according to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. In 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was rocked with an explosion that caused a radioactive contamination of the surrounding geographic area. This resulted in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people.
Two years later Balinovsky’s father moved to the U.S. with him and his mother in pursuit of a life away from communist oppression, said Balinovsky.
“I was only 10 years old when I came here, so I had plenty of time to get acquainted with the wrong friends,” said Balinovsky.
Balinovsky’s unstable upbringing resulted in him dropping out of high school during his 10th grade year. Eventually he realized the importance of an education and got his General Education Diploma.
Still in and out of trouble, Balinovsky did not get serious about life until his father had a heart attack in 2006.
Feeling the need to make his father proud, Balinovsky wanted more meaning in his life and enlisted in the Marines.
“Serving in the military is the least I can do to show my gratitude for all the freedoms offered by this great country,” Said Balinovsky. “The Marine Corps has also given me the opportunity to make something of myself, I’m glad for that.”
“These three Marines are some of the hardest working marines I’ve ever met,” said Cpl Kevian Weems, the warehouse chief for 2nd Radio Battalion Supply Platoon. “I tell them what needs to be done and it’s done, I never have to repeat myself, they make me look very good as a non-commissioned officer.”
There are many more Immigrants serving in the Marine Corps.
Pat Millush, immigration paralegal assigned to the Camp Lejeune legal assistance office, said that she sees about 80 clients a week requesting assistance concerning immigration related matters.
Millush explains that naturalization processing for armed forces personnel is faster than for others. Further, while there is a filing fee for dependents applying for naturalization, the process is free for those on active duty.
Bulgarian Immigrant becomes Marine
The U.S. Marine Corps is made up of people that come from all over the world, from every clime and place. Recruit Cvetomir V. Cvetkov, Platoon 1074, Company D., 1st Recruit Training Battalion is a native of Bulgaria, who joined the Marine Corps because he said he wanted to be one of the best. While getting his degree in accounting at the National and Worth Economy School in Bulgaria, Cvetkov began to work on coming to America on a student visa during the summer of 2003.
Cvetkov traveled to America to earn extra money by working a summer job at Six Flags Great America, in Chicago with some of his fellow classmates from his school. On their advice that he took the opportunity to earn extra money during the summer, improve his English, and explore new things.
“I decided I wanted to stay in America because there is still a lot of corruption in Bulgaria, and my younger brother is also here in the United States,” he said.
In 2006, after he obtained his degree, Cvetkov decided to immigrate to America. Since his degree was not recognized in the U.S., and the Corps wouldn’t recognize a student visa in order to enlist, he took up a job as a bartender and a limo driver, with intensions to eventually start college in the states.
While he was bartending in 2007 he met Rachel Cvetkov, 22, a Wisconsin native who was waitressing at the bar where he worked and shortly after they met they married. Though he married a U.S. citizen, Cvetkov had difficulties obtaining full American citizenship. He is currently on a two year visa, and plans on earning his citizenship soon. Since Cvetkov could never find the time or money to attend college while in the states he found himself stuck in a rut, he said.
“When I was a limo driver I would just sit in traffic, then one day I realized I was 27 and needed to do something better with my life,” says Cvetkov.
The Marine Corps could now accept Cvetkov under a resident visa, he said. So since he was soon to be at the cut off age Cvetkov, decided now was the time to enlist.
“I wanted stability for my wife and for myself. I also wanted to be a part of the toughest, hardest branch,” said Cvetkov. “So I didn’t even talk to the other services. I just went to a Marine recruiter.”
Cvetkov was very unsure of himself coming into recruit training because he didn’t understand the ways of the Marine Corps, he said. So when his drill instructors asked him if he wanted to be the guide during first phase, he declined.
The guide is the person selected by the drill instructors, to act as peer leader for his platoon.
“In second phase I didn’t give him the choice, I just made him guide,” said Staff Sgt. David A. Comas, drill instructor, platoon 1074 Co. D, 1st RTB. “The first week he seemed to have a tough time, but he put out the effort, especially for being the oldest recruit in the platoon. There’s never been a time I haven’t seen him put out the effort.”
With the help of his squad leaders, Cvetkov quickly adapted, and had a big affect on his platoon, said Comas. “He would always say, ‘I’m 28, if I can do this you can,” said Comas.
“This was a motivating factor for the other recruits, and Cvetkov is such a large guy, so they all listen to him.”
Once Cvetkov got the guide position, Recruit Blake A. Rutledge, Platoon 1074, Co. D., and the other squad leaders helped him by answering any questions he had.
“We just tried to help get him acclimated to the Marine Corps environment,” said Rutledge.
Cvetkov said the Marine Corps has thus far lived up to his expectations and has made him a more confident and disciplined person. He has also established teamwork skills that everyone must display during the Crucible, he said.
The Crucible is a 54 hour test of endurance while food and sleep deprived, and more than 30 tedious obstacles designed to test the recruits on all they have learned over the last 12 weeks.
“You can’t accomplish any of the Crucible by yourself. Pretty much every obstacle requires team effort,” says Cvetkov.
Cvetkov will soon go to Marine Combat Training, then to his military occupational speciality school in supply. A supply specialist performs every element of ground supply administration and operations. Now that Cvetkov feels he’s gained commitment and pride, he has hopes to make a career out of the Marine Corps and become and officer.
“No matter what job I do in the Marine Corps, whether its behind a desk or a gun, our drill instructors told us to do our best. We’re the future of the Marine Corps,” said Cvetkov.