MSgt. Timothy Stratton grew up in the days when kids used to be out all day in the summer and not come home until it was dinner time.
“My parents would drop myself and my two younger cousins off for a week in the mountains and then come back and pick us up,” Stratton said.
For an entire week, they could do whatever their hearts desired in the mountains of Colorado. He was 12.
Maybe it was his love of adventure that led him to the Marines. Maybe it was the freedom.
Stratton was born Feb. 13, 1963, to Gertrude Louis and Lawrence Leland Stratton Jr. in a small town on the northeastern Colorado plains.
His father was a truck driver and retired U.S. Navy. His mother was a school cook.
He was the baby of the family — his brother Randy was seven years older, and he was 11 years younger than his sister Deborah, or Rand and Deb as he affectionately calls them.
“We did a lot of stuff together as a family growing up,” Stratton said.
His family had a camper and they’d often take trips to the mountains. “We’d go camping, to the lake, fishing, backpacking.”
He and his best friend Arthur would be outside exploring more often than not. They’d go down to the creek, play “Cowboys and Indians,” and mess around — just “being boys, I guess.”
In high school, he and Arthur took three years of auto mechanics and, he said, it was a blast. They’d go out into town and tow people’s cars into the shop to work on them.
“A fuel line was frozen on a car that was only like two blocks away,” Stratton said. “So instead of towing it in, I get a squirt bottle of gas and I’m under the hood squirting it into the carburetor, Arthur was driving leaning out the window and we drove it back to school. We had a lot of fun.”
Stratton knew from an early age that he wanted to join the Marine Corps. So between his junior and senior year of high school at 17, he enlisted as a contract mechanic.
“The school got the Leatherneck magazine and nobody read it but me, so when it came in the librarian would just stand at the door and hand it to me while I went down the hallway,” he said, chuckling.
He graduated high school in 1981 and had just two weeks before he would leave for boot camp in San Diego.
Stratton barely met the height requirements, but they had him do special testing in boot camp for intelligence or the presidential support unit. Yet he still wanted to be a mechanic.
“My instructors were mad at me,” he said. “And I paid — I did lots of push ups.”
After graduating, he went to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for five months of training, then came straight back to California, but this time to Camp Pendleton and the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, an infantry battalion.
1st Battalion, 1st Marines
Stratton deployed a month later to Okinawa. From there, he made his way to the Philippines for 10 days of training and then Korea for a two-week “Team Spirit” training exercise.
“Being on the older ships was an experience,” he said. “You get in on the rack either on your stomach or your back because you couldn’t roll over or you’d hit the guy above you.”
1st Force Service Support Group
After his second Okinawa deployment, he was transferred to the 1st Force Service Support Group, an engine rebuild shop.
“The camaraderie wasn’t quite as close as my previous unit, but it was more fun work,” he said.
He was only there six months before his enlistment ended and he was honorably discharged on June 14, 1985, as an E-4 corporal.
Marine Corps Reserves
Not even a year later, Stratton missed the Marines, so in May 1986 he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves.
“It was totally different,” he said. “We’d have a weekend each month to do a month’s worth of work, so we were always busy.”
For one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer, Stratton would work almost nonstop and sometimes even from 5 in the morning until 2 a.m. the next day.
Meanwhile, he had started working for the city of Los Angeles at the L.A. Fire Department as a “mechanical helper” in October 1986, and a little over a year later, was promoted to “mechanical repairer” at the L.A. Convention Center.
2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment
In December 1990, Stratton’s unit was activated for the Persian Gulf War and he was once again sent to Okinawa.
“We got to do jungle insertions where you’re hanging on a rope from a helicopter and they pick you up and drop you down,” Stratton said.
When he returned after nine months, he continued work at the convention center and was promoted to “senior mechanical repairer II” in December 1993, putting him in charge of maintenance and repair of the center’s fleet of more than 120 mobile units.
In 2000, Stratton moved to Castaic with his wife, Catherine, daughters, Nicole, 15, and Michelle, 13, and son, David, 6.
1st Marine Division, Operation Iraqi Freedom
Stratton was again activated in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom and was deployed in April. It took 26 C-5 planes to land the Marines in Iraq.
“We became a priority to get over there with our armoured vehicles,” Stratton said. “When we got there we had to play catch-up — they had already started the war before we got there.”
“Everything was just totally different,” he said. “You had to worry about getting shot at.”
At 40, Stratton called himself the “old man” of the unit. He was overseeing 60 drivers, mechanics and engineers.
Stratton’s unit helped set up the police forces and border crossings in towns by the Iranian border, rebuild and repaired schools, and assisted in getting electricity and water pumping stations running — all while running resupply convoys twice a week.
“At first, they were just super glad that we were there,” he said. “They were just hard-working people out in the middle of nowhere, and all they were trying to do was survive and make a life for their family. They didn’t care what else was going on around the country.”
He met an Iraqi family in Babylon who had been saving for three years and had $13.
“The little boy was always in our formations,” Stratton said. “If we had fruit, the kids had fruit. We had toys shipped over to them — the little girl got her first doll, he got his first truck.”
Being a reservist, his unit was the end of the line for the Marine Corps, so they’d get what was left of supplies.
“I could tell my trucks coming miles down the road,” Stratton said. “A lot of them were reconditioned from Vietnam and we didn’t have parts for some of them.”
An accident during one of the convoys en route to repair a pumping station caused one of Stratton’s trucks to veer off the road and roll, throwing two soldiers from the vehicle.
“I was in the head shed when the call came in on the radio,” Stratton said. “They said an LAV, which is an armored vehicle, had rolled and they were doing CPR on the driver. Then they changed it to LVS, which was my truck, so then I knew exactly who the driver was.”
Cpl. Douglas Morenco Reyes, 22, died, and Stratton “felt responsible because I had switched drivers that day and had put him on that vehicle.”
Reyes had two kids and a wife.
“We made sure his kids were taken care of for years,” Stratton said. “I still think about him a lot.”
The other soldier in the accident survived, and it “bothered him the whole time.” About a year ago, he committed suicide.
“That was rough,” Stratton said.
Stratton was in Iraq for only six months, but it took him awhile to get back to normal when he returned home.
“I didn’t think I was that bad, but the guys at work were telling me it took me four years to readjust,” he said. “I didn’t think it was like that.”
After four years of active duty, 19 years in the reserves, three deployments to Okinawa and one to Iraq, Stratton finally completed his time with the Marines on Jan. 1, 2005.
His commendations included the Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal Ribbon, Combat Action Ribbon and Navy Presidential Unit Citation.
In 2006, Stratton and his wife, Catherine, helped a friend form the Santa Clarita Valley chapter of the Young Marines, a national organization that helps boys and girls ages 8-18 develop mental, moral and physical disciplines.
He began as the executive officer, and his son, David, was one of the 11 who were part of the first boot camp class in 2007.
“There was only the three of us to start off with so we did it all,” Stratton said. “But Cathy and I were everything at one point. We didn’t have a training officer, didn’t have a supply officer, didn’t have an executive officer.”
In 2007, he took over as commanding officer, and continued in that role for almost 12 years until last year when he stepped down to become executive officer. He is still the commanding officer with the local battalion, though, which oversees Antelope Valley, Barstow, Victorville and Santa Clarita.
“We spend hours and hours every week working on things for the program,” Stratton said.
Although it may be hard work, Stratton does it all for the kids.
“Hopefully it’ll give them the discipline and the confidence they need to be productive citizens in life and keep them away from drugs,” he said.
Stratton’s son, David, followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Marines. David is now stationed at Camp Lejeune just like his father was.
Stratton still enjoys the mountains, and owns property in some of the same mountains of Colorado he enjoyed as a child. But now, it’s also where he takes the Young Marines camping.
Stratton has spent over two-thirds of his life helping others in some way, whether it’s by serving his country or guiding the Young Marines.
“The one thing I always try to pass on is to take care of your guys,” Stratton said.
And his Young Marines? “Just try and take care of them, too.”