Garrigues has gone from battles to building schools with Marine Reserves

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Karissa Minn
For a little over two weeks this spring, one Salisbury Marine traded his guns and bullets for a hammer and nails.
Jonathan Garrigues, a sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, traveled to Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras on May 9. He and the rest of his platoon worked on a school and latrine that could withstand hurricane-force winds. The buildings will double as shelters against the storms that batter the Central American nation every year.
“The school shouldn’t need any maintenance or anything for 50 years,” Garrigues says. “And the walls ó it’s an Army kit that comes with the entire thing. It’s basically like an Erector set made out of plastic. You lay down a concrete slab, and then you build the plastic frame. Then you pour concrete into it, and that makes it hurricane-proof. And the roof is bolted in and everything.”
The latrine replaced outhouses that were little more than “holes in the ground,” Garrigues says. The new building has been equipped with toilets and sinks.
Garrigues was working as part of Joint Task Force-Bravo, a U.S. military task force. According to its Web site, the task force works with the Honduran military to provide humanitarian and civic assistance, counter-drug support and disaster relief.
Every two weeks, a new group would arrive to work on the project in Honduras, and Garrigues’ platoon was the second-to-last. They finished installing the roof, toilets, walls, dividers, chalkboards and whiteboards. The last group will work on beautification and landscaping. Army soldiers coordinated the project, and Marines like Garrigues did most of the labor.
“The (old) school was so overcrowded that the kids had to do half-on, half-off all day,” he says. “For about an hour, half the kids would be in there and the other half would be outside on recess. And for the other hour, they would switch. So at all times of the day, there’s about 200 kids running outside in the little school compound, and then about 200 kids cram-packed inside.”
The kids took to the Americans quite well during the construction. Garrigues laughs as he talks about how the Honduran children followed them around, playing games and eagerly accepting extra cases of strawberry milk.
“Everywhere we went, the kids would come up to us and want to talk to us,” says Garrigues.
The commitment for every U.S. Marine Corps Reserve member is one drill weekend a month, plus two weeks in the summertime. Garrigues has been in the Reserves for six years, while taking classes at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. His contract came to an end while he was in Honduras.
“I’m trying to figure out whether now’s the time to walk away, focus on school, get that knocked out for the family, or …” he says, pausing. “It’s only one weekend a month. What kind of a big deal is it to stay in for a while, you know? If I re-enlist one more time, then I’m halfway to retirement.”
Garrigues loads UPS trucks in the mornings, and he plans to continue his schooling in the evenings once the fall semester starts. He and his wife, Tara, have two daughters. Aydan is 4 years old this month, and Trinity is a little over 18 months. Garrigues jokes around with them in his apartment as he talks about his service. He knows that if he re-enlists, he may be taken away from them for up to a year if he is called to active duty.
Garrigues and his older brother, Bradford, were activated and deployed to Iraq in 2004. They fought in the Battle of Fallujah, a major battle of the Iraq War, stationed two miles outside of the city. Garrigues was injured there when a grenade blasted shrapnel into his leg, and he was later awarded a Purple Heart.
“When we came back (from Fallujah), Salisbury was so open to us,” he says. “I think I went three weeks and didn’t pay for a single meal, because everywhere I went, people had seen us on TV or in the paper and were paying for our meals.”
In addition to helping the Hondurans, Garrigues says that he hopes humanitarian missions like the one he participated in will help improve the U.S. public’s perception of the military.
“For a long time, it didn’t seem like there was near as much positive press about the military,” he says. Even now, when the war effort seems to be going well, Garrigues believes that the media coverage of the military is too negative.
Combat is a central part of the military’s operations ó one that receives much attention in wartime. Serving one’s country, though, can also be about serving others.