COLUMBIA, S.C. --
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After stepping out from the Army recruiting office, there was only one thing standing between Fructuoso Santos, his truck and a future as a U.S. soldier: Marine recruiter Sgt. Joseph Garcia.
“Hey kid, you wanna become a Marine?”
“Nah, I’m good,” dismissively replied the native of Mangilao, Guam.
“Why? Are you scared?”
Scared? No way. Just to prove it though, he would join Garcia and the Marine recruiting office that afternoon for their weekly physical training session. Afterall, the physical training plan for the day was a simple run.
Six grueling miles later, an exhausted Santos no longer had thoughts of becoming a soldier.
“I was dying after that run, but in the best way possible, because I felt challenged,” explained Santos, now a 30-year-old canvassing recruiter. “After that first session, I was instantly drawn to the physical and mental challenge that the Marines offered.”
In addition to being a way to test and develop his character, becoming a Marine meant adventure. It meant traveling the world and serving the nation that liberated his country of origin during World War II. As a child, he was always fascinated by the stories of brave Marines who fought against the Japanese in the Pacific.
In the spring of 2011, he boarded a plane to California to earn the coveted title himself at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California. Then, for the next eight years following the completion of his entry level training, he served as a 6092 aircraft intermediate level structures mechanic. As an airframer, the common vernacular for a 6092 Marine, Santos inspected, maintained, and repaired aircraft structural components at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.
While Santos developed professionally, he started a family. Alongside him today are his wife and childhood friend, Tiana Santos, and their three children, Adriel, Izzy and Damien.
As Santos’ family grew, his concept of being a Marine, husband and father intertwined. Santos said being a Marine now means carrying himself professionally and confidently so that he can serve as a positive role model for his family.
“The Marine Corps has given so much to me and my family throughout the years,” said Santos. “That’s why I volunteered for recruiting duty, because it was my way of giving back to the Corps.”
In 2018, after completing the Basic Recruiter's Course, the Marine Corps sent him to Recruiting Substation Statesboro, and the Santos family adjusted to a new environment. Georgia lacks the number of sunny beaches as California, but offers rolling hills and dense forests. Here, the family enjoys escaping to the state's famous Blue Ridge Mountains, which provide hiking, off-roading and camping.
Not only has the family embraced the change of scenery; Santos has embraced the change in his duties. The eight-year aiframer describes his recruiting mission as two equal parts. First, he finds and trains the city’s most capable young men and women to continue the Marines’ proud tradition. Second, he offers opportunities for a brighter future to those in his community.
“There is no better reward to recruiting than being part of the transformation some of these kids go through,” Santos said. “I think the parents, teachers and counselors see the positive changes too.”
Santos said he receives numerous referrals that validate his contribution to the community. Amongst his local network are parents who initially hesitated to send their children to bootcamp but whose uncertainty vanished when they saw their sons and daughters march proudly across the Peatross Parade Deck.
By January 2021, Santos will be returning to the fleet to continue his career as an airframer in Hawaii, a new assignment and location that he and his family highly anticipate.
“I’m really excited to return to the island life,” Santos says with a smile. “You can take the boy from the island, but you can’t take the island from the boy.”
With his time in Georgia drawing toward an end, Santos focuses shifts effort to mentoring the next generation of recruiters who will help his Statesboro community. Santos feels a sense of personal accomplishment. He has been able to return the same opportunities that Sgt. Joseph Garcia offered to him.