While many 19-year-olds juggle a busy college class load or their first part-time job back in the United States, one peer carries the responsibility of ensuring his battalion’s weapons are prepared for battle here.
“It is an awesome responsibility,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Ruiz, 19, battalion armorer, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Radio Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD). “I don’t know too many 19-year-olds back home who can say the same thing about what they are doing.”
Ruiz, whose unit is based out of Marine Corps Base, Hawaii, has been in Iraq since May and is responsible for the battalion’s weapon arsenal.
“I am a one-man shop,” he said. “But, I like having the responsibility. I ensure all the weapons are in proper working condition. If they don’t work when they need to someone’s life could be in jeopardy.”
According to his staff noncommissioned officer, he carries the responsibility well.
“We have our battalion spread out from here to Husaybah, near the Syrian border,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kent D. Cartmill, S-4 chief and native of Garden City, Kan. “He is responsible for all the weapons. If there is a problem at another base, he flies out there to assess the situation, and diagnose whether the weapon can be fixed or if it needs to be brought in for repair. The job is always independent for him when he goes out.”
Ruiz also assists with other billets in the battalion.
“He has held the billet as a Marine Integrated Maintenance Management Systems clerk and supply clerk to assist others,” said Cartmill. “He is well-rounded and very mature to take on tasks, as well as having a lot of initiative to go out and search for things that need to be done instead of waiting on someone to come to him.”
Ruiz had only been with his unit in Hawaii for a month before deploying to Iraq.
“He got to the battalion as a [private first class] straight from school and a month later we deployed,” said Cartmill. “He came out here and has really stepped into the job running. All the reports come back positive.”
Ruiz joined the Marine Corps in August 2004, but said he has known he wanted to be a Marine since he was 7 years old.
“My step-dad was a Marine,” he said. “Plus, when I saw the Marines on TV they appealed to me more than the other services.”
At first Ruiz wanted to be in the infantry. However, taking his uncle’s advice about jobs in the military, Ruiz decided to follow his footsteps and become an armorer.
When he found out he would be coming to Iraq, Ruiz broke the news to his family.
“My step-dad knew I was going to end up coming here,” explained Ruiz. “My grandmother didn’t want me to come out here, but I told her not to worry. I said, ‘If anything was going to happen to me it would happen no matter where I was.'”
With more than three months of his deployment behind him now, he said his family still worries but they are supportive.
“The family still worries due to what they hear on the news,” said Ruiz.
His mother is one of those who shares in the worry.
“It makes me nervous he is in Iraq,” said his mother, Estella Matthews. “He has been there since May and I pray for him each and every spare moment I have. I wish he was home with me, but I know, and he knows, he has a job to do and he won’t be coming home until the job is done.”
She said she has known since he joined the Corps he would end up in Iraq.
“I was very proud he wanted to join especially during these times, but he explained this is something he really wanted to do and he was willing to go to Iraq for his country,” she said.
Matthews, a native of Santa Ana, Calif., said her son has a very strong family support group back home.
“Christopher is a very independent, smart, caring young man,” she said. “As his mother, I am so very proud of who he has become. I know part of that is due to the Marine Corps. I always knew he would become someone special. Since he was a child he has always shown leadership skills.”
Since boot camp, Matthews said she has noticed changes in her son.
“I was nervous to see him after boot camp, I was afraid that he may have changed,” she said. “Well, he did change, my little boy was now a young man, he stood taller, he spoke with respect, his room was cleaner and his clothes were pressed. He was a United States Marine and he was proud!”
Now, with four months left on his first deployment, Ruiz is already looking ahead at his future in the Corps.
“I want to try and go to school,” he said. “I am currently leaning toward reenlisting. I want to be in charge of others, to help them and others in the unit.”
Ruiz is currently working on Marine Corps Institute correspondence courses and recently won a meritorious promotion board and will be promoted to corporal Dec. 2.
“I have learned a lot from the people who lead me, especially how to lead other Marines,” he said. “I want to take the knowledge back and develop a new leadership style.”