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Master Sgt. Marcos Estrada, native of South Side Chicago, overcame many obstacles as a youth to get to where he is today. 'The Marine Corps got me out of the neighborhood,' said Estrada. 'It gave me my first chance at a successful life.'

Photo by Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey

South Side struggle to Marine Corps success

16 May 2009 | Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago isn’t easy for a teenager. Marcos Estrada was no exception, which forced him to overcome obstacle after obstacle to get to where he is today.

“My parents separated when I was three and officially divorced when I was five,” Master Sgt. Estrada said.

Dealing with the separation of his parents, triggered the beginning of a rough upbringing for Estrada.

“My father got out of prison when I was in the seventh-grade for drug trafficking,” the 35-year-old said. “He was a heroin addict and very abusive.”

His father, Joseph, had been in and out of prison most of Marcos’ life.

“It forced my brothers and me to grow-up quickly,” Marcos said.

Marcos and his family received government assistance and moved around a lot during his childhood.

“I went to six different grammar schools just trying to stay away from my father, but he would always find us,” the Chicago native said.

However, all the moving around didn’t keep the teenager off the streets and out of trouble.

“I got involved in gangs around the seventh-grade,” said Marcos. “I was arrested when I was 15 for aggravated battery, and went on trial but was found not guilty.” 

Marcos attended Bogan High School on the South Side where he eventually met his wife.

“He used to always copy off me in Spanish class,” said wife Christina. “I was attracted to him because he had that ‘bad boy’ look, like he was trouble. But he was very confident and seemed to be a born leader.”

Joining the Marines was something Marcos always wanted to do.

“It’s kind of weird how my home situation shaped my future,” he said. “My father would come home and beat my mother. My brothers and I would run out the back door to our neighbor’s house.”

It just so happens one of the boys at his neighbor’s house was a Marine.

“I was probably 5-years-old and I can remember thinking that I wanted to be just like him,” Estrada said. “He would show me some cool things the Marines had taught him, and I saw him in his dress blues.”

Marcos was not the first in his family to attempt joining the Corps.

“Both of my brothers signed up but never shipped to boot camp,” said the veteran of five deployments. “My younger brother Japheth went to jail while in the delayed entry program. My older brother Joseph signed-up but was overweight and the Marines didn’t take him.”

Joseph died shortly thereafter from alcohol poisoning at the age of 23.

Estrada credits the Marine Corps with getting his life on track.

“The Marine Corps got me out of the neighborhood,” he said. “It gave me my first chance at a successful life.”

Joining the Marines allowed Marcos to start over again.

“What I liked about the Marine Corps was that you didn’t know anything about me that I didn’t tell you,” he said with a laugh. “But you did know that I was a Marine.”

Being a Marine has also provided Marcos the means necessary to take care of his own family.

“What he provides to this family is worth all the hard times,” his wife of 16 years said. “He loves being in the Marine Corps as much as he loves his life.”

Marcos and Christina have three children, Marcos Jr., 16, Arianna, 9, and 2-year-old Gabriella.

Christina can recount when it wasn’t all “coming up roses” for Marcos in the Marine Corps.

“I can remember when he was a lance corporal coming home upset because the corporals were telling him what to do,” she said. “But look at him now.”

Marcos enlisted as a machine gunner and from there would transition into recruiting duty back home in Chicago.

The very day Marcos checked-in for duty in Chicago he was informed he would be deploying to Iraq in November 2004 as a part of 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, said Marcos.

He was a gunnery sergeant and served as the personal security detachment platoon commander while deployed.

“I was in charge of 28 Marines and 10 (were awarded) Purple Hearts,” said Marcos.

Some things have come full circle for Marcos.

“I was a recruiter here as a sergeant and now I’m running the recruiting station I was recruited out of,” said Marcos.

He said he can relate to the kids from the Chicago area.

“Kids here are tough enough, they just need the opportunity,” he said. “I’m cut from the same cloth as many of these kids; I understand where a lot of them are coming from."

Growing up in a big city you learn to trust no one and keep everyone at an arm’s distance Marcos said.

“I can teach and show these kids that there are people you can trust, you can trust them with your life, your family and your kids.”

Many of the kids he has helped recruit have come from broken homes. A lot of them never knew their father; they thought they would never get out of the neighborhood, said Marcos.

He compared the first ever Marine Week and the fact it’s in Chicago to the transformation kids go through in boot camp.

“It’s like when you go to boot camp, you’re thinking I can’t wait to see my friends, my family but somewhere along the line that changes to I can’t wait for them to see me,” said Marcos. “Having Marine Week in Chicago is like that for me. I can’t wait for Chicago to see the Marine Corps and what I’m about.”

“It’s like when your mom comes to school and you show her your desk, your paper on the wall, your two worlds meet,” he said.

He said Marine Week has brought the Corps to his neighborhood.

He loves displaying what the Marine Corps stands for, said Christina.

“I’ve had parents approach me and tell me how great my husband is and how great it has been having the Marines here,” said Christina.

Having served two recruiting tours in his hometown, Marcos has been able to create new memories of Chicago.

“I have a lot of good memories now from Chicago, the bad ones have been pushed out,” said Marcos. “I’m here to replace them. My memories now are of recruiting duty. Instead of going through the city with a pistol waiting for someone to jump out, I see things and think of when or where I met a kid who wanted to enlist.”

Marcos believes the kid from the South Side of Chicago have come a long way and views Marine Week as just another chance to give back to the community.

Marcos’ father turned his life around after being released from prison. This allowed Marcos to reconnect with his father before his passing in 2004. Marcos now sports a tattoo in memory of his father on the inside of his left arm.

“He really became the world’s best grandfather for my children,” said Marcos.

Marcos’ mother, Mary Tellez, has since re-married and lives about an hour from Chicago in Indiana. Marcos and his mother stay in touch to this day. His surviving brother, Japheth, still lives in Chicago and works as a machinist. Japheth is married with two kids. Marcos and his brother also stay in touch frequently.

“One thing I would like to see is Marines from the Chicago area to come back to Chicago and give something back to the community,” said Marcos. “You can get out of the city but you can’t take the city out of you.”

Marine Corps News

Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps