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Home for the holiday: Staff sergeant at the Naval Academy reflects on time abroad during Fourth of July

Staff Sgt. Christian EsparzaGarcia does not care about the lack of the fireworks this year, or the other changes to the Fourth of July holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He is happy with the small barbecue he plans to have. For the first time in two years, he gets to celebrate the holiday with his family.

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EsparzaGarcia is currently stationed as the senior enlisted leader in the Naval Academy’s 26th Company, where he acts as a mentor and guide to the midshipmen. But before this assignment, he spent three years in Okinawa, Japan.

The first year, his family was with him, but they returned to the United States for the last two years of his assignment. It was not his pick, but Marines go where they are told to go.

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So he celebrated holidays for two years without his family. EsparzaGarcia was not alone, he said. He had his Marines.

“Every holiday is a little different,” he said.

Being abroad means being thankful for technology, with Skype and other video chat applications letting him see and talk with his family.

In Japan, there are strict regulations on fireworks, and the only place to see them was a good couple hours drive, EsparzaGarcia said. So instead the Marines would go to the Single Marine Program, a building where they could find ping pong and other game tournaments and eat food.

For the Marines who were with him and those who are abroad now, EsparzaGarcia says to remember to engage with each other and lean on each other while away from home during the holiday.

“And even though we are not back in America and you might miss these certain things, you know, you’re gonna remember the mission is, is first and then before you know your two years or three years is gonna be up and you’re gonna make your way back to America. And it’s just gonna make it that much more just memorable when you come back because you know what, how it’s like, not having those opportunities of being there and celebrating these, just like Fourth of July seeing the fireworks,” he said.

EsparzaGarcia said the holiday does remind him of the American spirit. He was part of an operation in Afghanistan during the holiday some 10 years back, and that makes him celebrate it.

“It does make me feel proud to be an American,” the staff sergeant said.

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