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Battle-scarred corpsman becomes Marine officer

He feels proud to return to the fight

May. 26, 2014 - 03:37PM   |  
Talicuran ()
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Then-corpsman Jefferson Talicuran poses during a 2008 deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan, with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. (Courtesy of 2nd Lt. Jefferson Talicuran)

It’s not often you see a midshipman hustling down Stribling Walk to get to class with a Combat Action Ribbon and a Purple Heart pinned to his dress uniform, but that was the last four years for Marine 2nd Lt. Jefferson Talicuran.

The 25-year-old former Navy corpsman, who was nearly discharged for a combat wound only years before, strode across the stage May 23 to accept his Naval Academy diploma and commission as a Marine Corps ground combat officer, more than seven years after he originally joined the Navy straight out of high school in San Diego.

Talicuran had known since boot camp that he wanted to attend the academy. He’d read about officer programs on the back of a professional development textbook, looked through the academy’s requirements, and decided, hey, I can do this.

“That’s how my quote-unquote ‘American dream’ started,” he said in a May 20 phone interview.

But he had no idea he’d have to survive an Afghanistan deployment and the blast of an improvised explosive device to get there, making him one of a cadre of former sailors and Marines who are bringing their war experiences into the halls of the Navy’s most prestigious institution.

'Out of your control'

Talicuran had joined the Navy at the urging of his uncle, a retired chief hospital corpsman, whom he lived with after emigrating from the Philippines in 2005. His uncle told him stories of caring for sailors underway and in clinics ashore. He decided to complete his professional training and get one deployment under his belt before applying to the academy, to make himself more competitive.

After “A” school, Talicuran got orders to Twentynine Palms, California, with a Marine Corps light infantry battalion.

“I never thought that I was actually going to be attached to a Marine unit,” he said. “That part of the story [my uncle] left off, because he was never with the Marines. I had no clue what I was getting myself into.”

Talicuran deployed with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, in April 2008 to Sangin, a town in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province that became an epicenter of the fighting. Two months in, his squad walked past a bicycle on a foot patrol, and that was the end of his deployment.

“I was probably the fourth person to pass the bicycle and by the time I passed it, when I was about six feet away from it, it exploded,” Talicuran said. “We never thought that a bicycle could be used as an IED.”

Talicuran was badly injured, but he was conscious and able to walk away. He told his battle buddies how to patch him up so he wouldn’t bleed out through the axillary artery under his arm. Talicuran now sports a massive scar on his left arm, but luckily no brain injury, he said.

After a short stint at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Navy sent him to Balboa Navy Medical Center in San Diego to be closer to his family. He was on his way to a medical discharge, he said, but the academy dream was still there.

“Every single day, I would go do occupational therapy, do my exercises. I did that for a year,” he said.

Toward the end of his medical board, he recalled, he passed his fitness and medical tests, restoring him to full-duty medical status, the last milestone he needed before he put in his application to the academy.

“I guess you just have to realize that there are things that are out of your control, there are things that are in your control,” he said. “Things that are in my control are to move on.”

'The best thing'

He began his plebe year in the fall of 2010, at age 22 — four years older than most of his classmates. He said that boot camp was physically more difficult, mostly because he’d been much younger at the time, but that he wasn’t prepared for the academy’s academic rigors.

“I wished I went through preparatory school, because that would’ve helped me in academics,” he said. “I graduated [high school] in 2006 and then I came here in 2010, so that’s a while to be out of school.”

Plus, Talicuran said, he’d never considered going to college before he decided to become an officer. On top of his age, his ribbon rack immediately set him apart from his fresh-out-of-high school shipmates.

“If I’m asked about my service, I would share my experience with my classmates or my company, but not necessarily put it in their faces,” he said.

When it came time to pick a career track, he decided to stick with what he knew.

“I think it just happened because I joined the Navy, but I was really not familiar with the Navy side,” he said. ‘Of all my enlisted years, I’ve been with the Marines, and working with them was actually the best thing that happened to me.”

He said he thinks his experience with junior enlisted Marines will make him a better officer, and that the guys from his own unit have told him they’re proud that he’s making the switch — and signing up to return to the fight.

“I think that coming back as a Marine officer is another way of serving them, again,” Talicuran said.■

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