It’s weird to hear him call himself a “mama’s boy.”
Sgt. Mario Giron is a quiet, conservative guy who commanded dozens of grown men in Afghanistan, and has known the joy of marriage and the heartbreak of divorce.
And, yet, he jokes about being a “homebody,” and enjoying time with his mom.
Maybe it stems from seeing his father leave his mother for “Guatemala or somewhere.” Or that he helped raise his two little sisters while his mom worked as a maid, cleaning up after those living in two-parent households.
“I was considering going to work full time, but my mom wanted me to go to college,” Giron said. “And my mom, being who she is, wanted to help me pay for school. And, I realized I couldn’t put her through that.”
Giron wanted to take the burden off his mom, and care for her in the same way she cared for him. So, he made a decision:
“I served for seven years in the United States Marine Corps.”
Mario Giron was born March 3, 1990, to Blanca and Manuel Giron in a Sylmar-area hospital.
Giron says his father split to Guatemala when he was young. But despite being primarily a Spanish speaker living in Southern California as a single mother, Blanca was able to raise her three kids while working as a house cleaner.
As a kid, if he wasn’t helping around the house or helping out with his sisters, Giron says he was active.
“I’d like to run or play basketball,” Giron said. “At school, my favorite subject was P.E.”
Wanting to put years of being the fastest sprinter and the longest jogger with the playground’s smoothest hand-eye coordination to use, as he entered the ninth grade Giron thought he was destined to put on a Hart High School football uniform and test his skills under the Friday night lights.
His mom gave that idea a hard pass.
“She never wanted me to play football, because she was scared I’d get hurt,” Giron said. “She cleaned houses and saw dudes twice my size getting injured, and she didn’t want that happening to me.”
Giron indicates his involvement in school was minimal. He would get bad grades and ditch class. Instead, he would spend his afternoons on the practice field. He would lug boxes and stock shelves as a clerk at the Vallarta Supermarket on Lyons Avenue.
“The Marine recruiters were more fit than the others,” Giron said. “And those uniforms are sexy.”
When he was 17 years old, his mom sat next to him in the recruiters’ office as the boy who she wouldn’t allow to play football was now asking her to sign the waiver allowing him to join a military branch engaged in combat on the other side of the world.
She had demands and the Marine recruiter who knew “a little Spanish” tried to follow along as she listed them.
“They promised I wouldn’t get hurt and said I wasn’t going to be in the infantry,” Giron said. “‘He’s not going to be deployed,’ they promised her.”
Seemingly satisfied — or rather knowing that she wouldn’t be able to stop him when he turned 18 anyway — Giron was signed into the U.S. Marine Corps in January 2008. Eight months later, he would get his first taste of boot camp.
“I had only seen guys yelling at people in Smokey Bear hats,” said Giron, about what his expectations were heading into the military. “There was that, of course, but there was also a lot of running and obstacle courses.”
At graduation, his family, including his mom and two sisters, ran down to hug him, Giron said. “But, really, the first thing I wanted to do after graduation was eat … three months of chow hall food will do that to you.”
After further training at Camp Pendleton, and gaining commendations as a rifleman despite the Marines being the first place he had ever held a rifle, he was sent to North Carolina to receive his military occupation speciality training in supply-chain management.
“We worked out of a warehouse where I basically dealt with weapons, laptops and a lot of sensitive items with serial numbers,” Giron said, adding that by the end of one month, it was time to fill out his “wish list” for deployment.
“I picked Pendleton, because I thought Japan and Hawaii would be cool, but I wanted to be close to my family,” Giron said.
“For most of my time, I was in Pendleton working with the supplies and warehouses there,” Giron said. “But, I got deployed to Afghanistan twice: the first time in 2010 and the second in 2013.”
During his two tours for Operation Enduring Freedom, he was at the place known as Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. While there, he worked with the military’s metal shipping containers.
“I worked mostly with the bulkier items like tires and vehicle parts,” Giron said. “I also worked with the third country nationals, or TCNs, who are basically private contractors from other countries working to help us out, like with big forklifts and stuff like that.”
During his first tour, on May 16, 2010, the Supply Management Unit lot where Giron and his fellow supply techs kept their responsibilities was set ablaze. The fire burned for eight hours, largely due to one of the largest sandstorms in Camp Leatherneck’s history taking place at the same time.
“I was in the chow hall (and) someone came in yelling, ‘The SMU is on fire,’” Giron recalled. “It took us a second, and then I remembered that’s where the tires were at, and we just all went, ‘Oh, wait! That’s us.”
Much of his remaining tour was spent cleaning up the debris and wreckage created by the fire. And, as hard as it was to pick up, it was even more challenging to rebuild and replenish.
“Everything was just completely burned — $60 million worth of gear and supplies — and as far as I can tell, they never found out if it was either a Marine or TCN who started it,” Giron said. “So, we had to pick up the (debris), putting it into plastic bags and then we were pretty much on standby ordering a lot of new gear — basically starting from scratch.”
The Supply Management Unit lot at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan burned for eight hours straight on May 16, 2010. Among those left to pick up and rebuilt in the aftermath of the fire was then-Cpl. Mario Giron. Photos courtesy of the official website for the United States Marine Corps.
The Warrior Monk
After seven years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, two tours in Afghanistan and three injuries that nearly forced him to be medically discharged, Giron was honorably discharged as an E-5 sergeant on Oct. 24, 2015.
And although he was greeted by his mom, sisters and cousins, the entire reception for the returning Newhall resident was not all joy.
“I was going through a divorce after I had gotten married in 2012,” said Giron, showing vulnerability and, for the first time, some reticence. “Ten days before I had gotten out: ‘Hey, I don’t want to be with you anymore.’”
Giron said his mother tried to pull him out “for a long time,” calling the time of his divorce terrible and unexpected, which also led to drinking and a “series of bars.”
By February 2016, his friends had enough, and they wanted to see their old friend again, even if it meant drawing him out with something only the new Mario would be interested in.
“I made an appointment with David Jackson at College of the Canyons… and he helped me enroll at COC using my G.I. Bill,” Giron said. “This June, I’m getting two degrees: one in business administration, and the other in accounting.”
He says he plans to transfer to California State University, Northridge, this fall to complete his education before returning to work full-time in the private sector.
“I want to work with Amazon one day, helping them with their supply chains,” Giron said. “And, I want to work in an office; there won’t be any heavy lifting for me like there was at Vallarta or the Marines.”
He says he’s more frugal now, and still goes on his jogs, but instead of his mother having to pay tuition, he’s able to attend school for free while his mom is still able to be there for him.
“I usually spend most of my free time with my mom,” said Giron, who confessed he was making up for lost time when he wasn’t calling her while in the service. “I like spending time with her, because she’s pretty much been by herself with my sisters for so long.
“On Sundays, I always make time for her. But, now, I can take her out to eat or invite her over to cook something with me over here,” he said. “I’m a mama’s boy.”