It’s rare to find a Marine who would describe the Corps as “fun.”
Yes, you’ll find a consensus among them — from those currently in the service, to those who just got out to those few still around who fought in battles such as Tulagi and Guadalcanal — that there are some good memories; times shared within their brotherhood that can bring a smile to their faces still.
But rarely would you find a guy who would describe his time during active duty or in the entire Marine Corps Reserves quite like Sgt. Eric Larson. In fact, the Marine Corps was such a good time for him, that he stayed around for a couple of extra years after serving six.
“I enjoyed the Marines so much, I didn’t even know that I had gone over by two-and-a-half years,” said Larson. “There was no obligation for me to be there… I was just having fun.”
Maybe it was his lifelong fascination with firearms and being out on a range that kept him signing on the dotted line. Maybe his mission in life, to help others, is what kept him doing his regular training. Or maybe it’s the sense of community he found in the Marine Corps Reserves, and with other veterans, that kept him coming back.
Larson was born Oct. 25, 1969, in Tacoma, Washington, to Marilyn and Gary Larson, a stay-at-home mom and an employee at Boeing, respectively.
“My dad was in the Air Force, and they were in the South Dakota, Minnesota-area when they decided to move to Washington to follow my Dad’s career in Boeing,” Larson said, adding his mom would stay at home with him and his older sister, which was a “full-time job.”
However, when Larson was 2 years old, his family packed their bags and headed for Santa Monica, where his dad had gotten a job as a Los Angeles Police Department officer.
While growing up, the youngest Larson said he played sports, particularly basketball and football. But his parents’ divorce meant always having to change up the neighborhood teams he was on, because the neighborhood he was living in was always different, he said.
“I’ve never really known a married parental family unit,” said Larson. “I went to several different elementary schools, which is kind of weird — ’cause now I don’t have a lot of childhood friends, like a lot of my friends do now.”
After hopping around from elementary school to elementary school, Larson eventually found himself finishing the sixth grade and moving onto Rosemont Middle School. He continued on with his ability on the court and field, playing football in the fall and basketball in the winter/spring at Crescenta Valley High.
Whether it was due to bad grades or that he wanted some form of independence and not wanting to rely on his mom anymore (he was living with his mom for most of his teenage years), Larson made the decision to join the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves before he had even graduated from high school.
Marine Corps Reserves
In Larson’s story, there appear to be two forces when it comes to him deciding to join the service before he was even old enough to vote: himself and his mom.
“She was not happy,” said Larson, in reference to his mother finding out he had joined the Marines. “I think she was in denial up until the morning they came to get me.”
Larson had signed up for the Marines in 1988, but received a delayed entry before shipping off to boot camp, completing one year of college before being fully inducted into the beginning stages of becoming a Marine.
In regard to his boot camp, Larson said that, although he was in the Reserves, he was still required to do the full 13 weeks along with every other Marine. He called the experience “thrilling.”
“That’s a good word to sum it up. … I thought it was great, and it taught me a lot about who I should be, who I want to be,” said Larson. “Who I am today is based a lot on boot camp, more than parental guidance.”
Following the completion of boot camp, he was able to return to Glendale for a stint, complete another year of college, head to officer training school (where he says he finished near the top of his class), return home, and then, he headed off to the city of Davis, near Sacramento.
“I didn’t really like it up there (in Davis),” Larson said.
He wouldn’t have to wait long in Northern California, however, because as the eve of Desert Storm quickly approached, his company, Echo, would be called up to active duty.
After being called up to active duty, having a military occupation speciality as a mortarman and having gone to officer school, where he learned land navigation, Larson became a perfect candidate to be shipped first to Okinawa, and eventually the Philippines.
“I almost died there,” Larson joked, speaking to his time in the Philippines. “I had a bad MRE (meals ready to eat) … and being sick in the Philippines is not pretty. I was able to play ‘games’ with my skin because I was dehydrated.”
Larson likened the terrain of the Philippines to the details his friends from the Vietnam era have shared with them. It was damp and hot, and he was constantly getting sick.
“We didn’t have a shower for 30 days … we would have to take solar showers, which means getting naked and standing in the sun,” said Larson. “We smelled a little less than death, but still like death.”
The reason for their misery in the Philippines, or for their placement in the country at all, was as part of a humanitarian mission in the country being conducted by the Marines. During that time, the Philippines was suffering from a massive national debt, government corruption, coup attempts and a communist insurgency.
“We were working alongside the people there,” said Larson. “And we were trying to find terrorists.”
After the Marine Reserves
“I did eight-and-a-half years in the Marine Corps, which is longer than most people,” Larson said, explaining that he had been on a non-obligation contract, which meant, after his six-year contract, he showed up for another two-and-a-half years. “I was having fun, and I got promoted, made sergeant. I started enjoying marches and such.”
After returning home from active deployment, Larson said he was without a home for a while. He had broken up with his longtime partner at the time, and she had locked him out of the house.
“I essentially had to break into my own house to get my keys,” Larson said, adding that he then lived in his car for a period of time, until his aunt came along and offered him a job up in Northern California at Angels Camp.
After holding down a variety of odd jobs, Larson said he eventually made his way back to familiar territory, going to school at California State University, Northridge, studying to be a geologist, all while still training as a Marine reservist.
But in 1997, Larson officially left the Marine Corps in the same year he graduated from CSUN, becoming a full-time private citizen for the first time since he was 18.
After putting his degree to use for a bit, Larson decided to open up his Santa Clarita-based business, Cobra Tactical, in the Castaic area in 2003. It incorporated in 2009.
“We started with just doing tactical gear,” said Larson. “But eventually, it evolved into gunsmithing and training.”
Larson said everyone from former soldiers to law enforcement personnel to hobbyist gun owners now come to him. They’ll sit around the shop, trade stories, talk about their passion for firearms, and most importantly, help each other.
Following the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Larson saw an opportunity to open his store while also being able to help the current members of his old fraternity.
They’d be making a profit with the shop, and use some of those profits to send charitable gifts, like gear and supplies, to the troops overseas, he said. “I was getting paid to support our troops.”
Now, Cobra Tactical helps California gun owners through the shop’s licensed gun safety courses, but also educating Santa Clarita gun owners on the latest laws and information coming out in the state in regard to firearms. Beyond his business, he says, Larson is also an active member of his community and sits as a member of the Castaic Town Council.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s because I like to think of myself as thoughtful, but I really care for my community and customers,” said Larson. “They’re like family.”