AL ASAD, Iraq --
A father is someone that a boy can look up to and admire, someone that a son can emulate in his adulthood. Growing up together learning from each other, the bond between father and son can become strong. Sometimes that bond can be made even stronger with special circumstances.
For Gunnery Sgt. Reynolda M. Pena, an engineer detachment chief with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and his step-son Pvt. Derrick Gibson, an Entry Control Point guard for Marine Wing Support Squadron 372, their bond became stronger when they shared a couple of days together aboard Al Asad.
“It’s a good experience (to see my dad out here),” said Gibson with a grin on his face. “He surprised me the other day and just showed up and I was like ‘That’s my dad’. It’s different because we are in a different country, but I like being with him and getting to see him after not seeing him for a while.”
For Pena, who has been Gibson’s step-father since he was three years old, getting to see his son and make sure that he is alright was just good fortune.
“In the states you are always there, but over here you know that you can not be there everyday and it’s nice that the MEU went out of their way to put me here before we left,” said Pena. “If anything ever happened (to Gibson) my chain-of-command would go out of their way to get me where I need to go. It’s very nice that even though we are a Marine Corps family, they know there are other families.”
The Corps got their first taste of the two when Pena joined in 1987. After serving a couple of years he got out, but soon returned.
“I joined right after school, it was something that I wanted to do, I was infatuated with the Marine Corps,” said Pena. “(After getting out) my brother got in the Marine Corps and convinced me to get back in. I was doing good as a civilian and my brother was like ‘We can get stationed together,’ and I told him that wasn’t going to happen. But I went to see the recruiter to see what he had for me. He said ‘What do you want to do,’ and I said ‘heavy junk.’ He said okay and the next day I had my hand up.”
As for Gibson, a life around the Marine Corps sparked an interest early on. Upon graduating high school in 2006, he raised his hand and swore to protect and serve his country as a Marine, just like his father.
“I always wanted to be a Marine but (Pena) has always said no,” explained Gibson. “I was watching T.V. and a Marine commercial came up and I was like ‘I wish I was doing that right now,’ that’s when he asked me why I haven’t done it yet and I told him because he always said no. Then he said if you want to join just don’t be a grunt. So I got on the phone with the recruiter and joined. Now I am a heavy equipment operator like my father.”
Pena wanted his son to be happy doing what he was doing and despite his early aversion of Gibson joining, he was content with his decision.
“When he first told me that he wanted to be a Marine I just told him right then and there ‘You are your own man, you’re gonna make your own decisions in life,’” said Pena. “I thought it was a good choice. Now he gets to see the way of life in a different perspective.”
Always wanting the best for his son, Pena encouraged him to do something in the Marine Corps that will help him later in life.
“The big thing was that if he did come in the Marine Corps, come into something that is going to benefit him later on in life,” said Pena. “Being an operator he has something to fall back on and look forward to in life.”
The journey for these two first started when Pena got out of the Marine Corps the first time and met Gibson’s mother at work.
“Right after I first got out of the Marine Corps I went back to Missouri, it was really kind of hard to transition from the Marine Corps style to being a civilian,” said Pena. “I met his mom at work one day and we hit it off pretty nice. We dated for almost three and a half years, then we lived together and that’s when I met the little man here.”
Marrying into a family is not an easy task and filling the shoes of a father can be even more daunting, but as far as Gibson was concerned there was not a better person for the job. Although Pena is his step-father, Gibson believes he has stepped in to be more like a real father.
“It took time to transition because he came into two children, my sister and me,” Gibson said proudly. “He took care of us and my mother couldn’t have picked a better guy. Everything that
I have learned it came from him, I probably wouldn’t be the guy I am today if it wasn’t for him because of what he has done. He brought me on my first fishing trip, first hunting trip, taught me how to drive; everything was on his shoulders.”
Pena was also responsible for Gibson’s desire to join the Corps and his will to be a heavy equipment operator.
“Every chance I got dad used to take me to the lot and let me get in the gear,” explained Gibson. “From then on mom always said that would be it for me. He taught me a lot of stuff about the Marine Corps. It was something that I always wanted to do.”
Now the two are serving together and even spent a couple of days in Al Asad sharing memories and calling home.
“We had a lot of good times just growing up through the years, doing a lot of crazy things,” Pena said smiling. “We went to Okinawa together, going hunting and fishing and we have done a lot of four-wheel riding. It kind of put me back in my younger days even though I am an old man, just getting out together.”
Calling home was a different experience.
“She automatically started crying, she loves that we are both out here,” explained Pena. “It hit her just like me when he graduated. She is very proud of both of us.”
Despite his short visit, Pena was glad to see his son and know that he has friends here in case anything happens.
“He’s got good people looking out for him,” said Pena. “I have a good friend Gunny Taylor that I have known since ‘97, he’s got another guardian angel over his shoulder.”
For Gibson, seeing his father out here was heaven sent, but knowing that he has someone he knows for guidance is a relief.
“I knew Gunny since he was a sergeant,” added Gibson. “The first time I saw him at the chow hall, he about knocked me out because he knew who I was. The first thing he said to me was ‘I never thought I would see you in that uniform.’ If (Pena) can’t help me I know that Gunny can.”
At the end, father and son had to say goodbye and continue with their missions. Pena will be leaving Iraq with the MEU, while Gibson will continue to ensure that nothing sneaks into Al
Asad - both glad to have spent time together.
“He’ll make his footprint in life, he’ll make his steps, but when he graduated no man could have been happier,” Pena said joyously. “We get to enjoy life together, I’m just glad it was here.”