Patriotism, Alive & Well
Recently I met Marlon and Josette Tolentino at Valencia’s Corner Bakery and over coffee we spoke for several hours. Hearing their experiences of how their lives intertwined during college and in the U.S. Army was particularly interesting. I don’t think I’ve met anyone more patriotic than these two wonderful American Veterans.
Naturalized U.S. Citizenship
Josette Marie Zamora was born September 29, 1977, in Manila, Philippines, but she grew up in South East Asia as her father worked for Philippine Airlines which took them to Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia. However in 1991, they immigrated to America settling in Reseda, California, and Josette graduated from Grant High School in June 1996 and she promptly attended California State University, Northridge. She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree four years later in 2000, the very year that she became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Upon graduation, Josette worked in CSUN’s Matador book store until September 11, 2001 when radical Islamic terrorists flew commercial airliners into New York City’s Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Radical Islamic Terrorism
Josette, while attending class, met Marlon Tolentino during a three hour group session but she wasn’t aware that he had been “eye balling” her during class. Josette first spoke to him simply saying hello. That was it, but during another class, Marlon said to her, “Uh, what was last week’s homework?” Though he knew full well what it was, however that feeble line began a long relationship that has lasted to this day. When Marlon first asked Josette out for coffee she declined but he persisted and their relationship soon blossomed. The 9/11 terrorist attack shocked the world and it motivated Josette to join the U.S. Army, which she did on her 24th Birthday. Josette took Basic Training at Fort Jackson, North Carolina, and then Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
You’re in the Army Now
Marlon Echeverria Tolentino was born March 12, 1973, in Ilocos Norte, Philippines, a rice farming region where he spent his early years. Marlon’s Father, sponsored by his brother, immigrated to the United States in 1977 and Marlon’s mother soon followed her husband. Marlon and his sister then lived with his grandparents until he was 10 years of age when they joined their parents in 1983 and they lived in Los Angeles’ Korea Town with an aunt and uncle who owned an apartment building. Marlon graduated from L.A. High School in June 1992 where he experienced ROTC and he considered joining the U.S. Marine Corps but his parents insisted that he must attend college, hence he attended California State University, Northridge as a part time student. But after falling for Josette and seeing her enlist in the U.S. Army, he was firmly inspired to follow her lead, thus he enlisted May 28, 2002. Marlon’s parents flipped out when he told them but he had already signed the Army’s paperwork.
3rd Infantry Division
Marlon took his Basic and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and afterwards he was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, while Josette had been assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The 3rd’ I.D.’s nickname is “The Rock of the Marne” from its WWI exploits in Europe. They were only four hours apart and Josette and Marlon both knew they were destined for deployment to Iraq, so following Marlon’s Basic Training while on leave were married September 19, 2002 in Charleston, South Carolina. During the next four months, they had one week together before the 3rd Infantry Division deployed to Kuwait January 19, 2003. Due to Josette’s Bachelor Degree she was swiftly promoted to Specialist 4th Class E-4, while Marlon was still a Private First Class E-3. To say that Josette relished outranking Marlon would be an understatement. Josette, as a Motor Transport Operator, was assigned to Camp New York, a Kuwait staging base where her unit prepared for the Iraq invasion. Marlon was an infantry rifle man, a grunt, and was positioned at Camp New Jersey, also a staging point where his unit prepared for a rapid dash across Kuwait’s border into Iraq. Josette and Marlon saw each other a few times in Kuwait.
Mad Dash to Baghdad
On March 20, 2003, U.S. infantry units, including Marlon’s convoy streamed across Kuwait’s border towards Talil Air Field near Nasiriyah, Iraq, to secure it for U.S. use. Along the way they encountered light resistance from Saddam Hussein’s forces who either fled or surrendered as they were simply uninterested in defending their country in the face of America’s mighty show of force. Marlon’s unit stayed at Talil for one week and then they made a mad dash to Baghdad occupying a large residential community where they established a security perimeter. Meanwhile, Josette’s unit convoyed supplies to American troops but the infantry moved so quickly they couldn’t keep up. Marlon said, “Too often we had only one MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) per day and we were always low on water. Sand fleas and dysentery became a major problem and showers were a rarity.
Five Ton Gun Truck
Josette’s job was driving a manual shift five ton gun truck that she accomplished during on-the-job training. She was literally told, drive the truck or get left behind so she drove the truck. Plus, she occasionally handled their .50 Caliber Machine Gun and on one supply mission during a supposed cease fire, Josette’s convoy received enemy mortar fire. She spotted enemy movement and promptly lit up the area with her .50 Cal which was exhilarating though just talking about that ten minute firefight I sensed emotion in her voice. During Marlon’s three tours of duties that ranged from Baghdad and into the Sunni Triangle, he experienced a number of fire fights and IED explosions. A visual that Marlon will never ever forget was when he had to recover two burned bodies of his friends from a blown up Bradley.
As Josette’s Army Honorable Discharge loomed, she became pregnant and they decided that she should end her service on August 5, 2004, and their beautiful daughter Rinnah was born November 5, 2004. Among Josette’s awards, she earned two Army Achievement Medals. Meanwhile, Marlon’s remaining Army service included Air Borne Training at Fort Benning, Georgia and Drill Sergeant Duty at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. While Marlon reported for duty, Josette sought an apartment, Rinnah started school at Trinity Christian Academy and Josette became a volunteer there. Marlon earned his Honorable Discharge December 11, 2011, and began working at City National Bank and their son Marcus James Tolentino was born April 21, 2012. Among Marlon’s military awards, he earned six Army Commendation medals and two Army Achievement Medals. On February 3, 2016, Josette and Marlon applied and qualified for homeownership through Homes4Families and are in escrow for a four bedroom home in Santa Clarita. They are currently very active earning required “sweat equity hours” towards construction of their new home as these two fine Veterans are proudly achieving their American dream.