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While many students spent spring break basking in the sun on exotic beaches, Ruben Marinelarena ’02-’03 was feeling the burn of military-strength pepper spray and learning to be “combat efficient in a nuclear and chemical environment.”
Marinelarena, a Marine reservist, left school in January when he was called up and shipped out to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Along with the rest of his company, Marinelarena has spent the last two months there, completing the final preparations for war.
The Harvard senior’s experience has been a far cry from the midterms, thesis polishing and eventual release of the typical senior spring.
He’s learning to use riot gear and deal with foreign civilians. He’s brushing up on his martial arts skills. And Saturday, while police monitored anti-war protests across the country, Marinelarena and fellow members of Bravo company ran obstacle courses after being hit with pepper spray three times the strength of what police carry.
“They do it so we know what kind of pain we can inflict on others,” Marinelarena explained. “It was like having 20 root canals. I would rather take Ec 10 all over again than have to do that.”
In between drills, Marinelarena, who was activated during finals, is trying to finish work he owes for two classes and is keeping in touch with girlfriend and frat buddies left behind.
Marinelarena, the only Ivy League student at the camp, says that he now shares a room with three other Marines that is half the size of his “cushy” single in Lowell House.
Activation has also meant a change to Marinelarena’s political activity.
While at Harvard, Marinelarena was the finance director for the Harvard College Democrats, but when asked about his position on the war, he now demurs.
“My role as a Marine is not to think about the government’s policy,” Marinelarena said. “I took that vow, I am no longer a reservist—I follow the rules of the Constitution that I am bound to protect. I have to follow through.”
Marinelarena is now waiting to be deployed—and the call could come at any time. “I don’t know when I am going to combat,” he said. “Is it going to happen? Probably.”
He said he didn’t know where he would be eventually stationed, for what he expects to be a one year tour of duty.
But he said he was ready.
“I feel prepared. We train intensively,” Marinelarena said. “I am not afraid for myself, but I am scared for the repercussions—should anything go wrong—on my family and friends.”
“I like being a reservist and supporting my country in a time of need,” he said.
Marinelarena said that his call to duty is giving him added perspective.
He also cautioned students to be careful to make informed decisions about what war coverage they trust.
Marinelarena recommends the BBC and Reuters over CNN.
“Look a little past what everybody is telling you—if you stick to normative news sources, you’re only getting one perspective.”
He also said protesters should be thoughtful in their objections.
“I would hope that Harvard students separate the troops from their actions,” Marinelarena said.
It hurts when protesters call soldiers baby killers. “As soldiers, we have no option,” he said.
Students have their right of freedom of speech, but should remember that they can be against the war while supporting the troops, Marinelarena said.
—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at email@example.com.
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