Military Hero - Richard Reyes - US Marine Corps
04.21.21 Military Hero
Richard Reyes - US Marine Corps
Richard Reyes decided to be a Clippers fan when he was five years old. Living in Burbank, his whole family supported the other LA basketball team and always had, but Richard said he never really connected with it. Growing up, he says he was a very slender kid. He always felt like he had something to prove. Because of that he related to the Clippers and they became his team.
“It’s always been a family; it’s always been us against everyone else and I bought into that,” Richard says of choosing the Clippers. “I also like arguing with my brothers!”
Richard wasn’t sure what was next after high school. When some of his brothers’ friends who had joined the military came home after bootcamp and deployments, Richard saw how much they’d changed. They were more confident and focused; they carried themselves differently. He wanted that same sense of purpose for himself. He wanted to be challenged and pointed in a new direction.
Richard's drive ultimately motivated him to join the Marines in 2002, at just 17 years old.
“A lot of people said I couldn’t make it, and that just drove me even harder,” he says of the feedback he received after enlisting. The Marine Corps is known for having one of the most difficult bootcamps. Richard was sent to MCRD San Diego for a bootcamp experience that tested him not just physically, but mentally.
The naysayers and the Clippers helped him get through it.
One of the proudest moments of Richard’s career in service came early on. He grew up in a strict Mexican family where men don’t show emotion. The day Richard graduated and became a Marine, his father broke down into tears because he was so proud.
“Like the Clippers, I was always the underdog. So I always wanted to show everyone I could do it. And trust me, there have been times I wanted to quit, but I wasn’t going to come back home a quitter.”
“It’s been almost 18 years and I can still remember some of the lessons I learned,” he recalls. “I thought I would forget most of it, you don’t.”
Good advice at any time, one of the lessons that stays with Richard is particularly poignant now — whatever you’re going through in the moment, it will pass. What might seem like a bad day today is not your worst. Tomorrow will be better.
Out of the jobs available to him, Richard chose Wireman, a telephone communications specialist. His recruiter told him to pick something he thought he could use in the future. Richard became a Wireman with that thought in mind. He was sent to Twentynine Palms to attend Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School. Richard didn't like the desert heat, so he volunteered for his next designated duty station and was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Two months in, volunteers were needed to go to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa. No one wanted to volunteer. Wanting to make an impact, Richard volunteered in 2003 and was deployed as a Field Wireman for six months. He enjoyed it so much, he stayed a year.
At Camp Lamonnier, in order to leave the compound you needed a radio operator to communicate, Richard was the radio operator. In that year, he went on more than 100 Helo missions taking the communication into the field, as well as humanitarian missions like building wells for communities that didn’t have water.
Richard says looking into the night sky and seeing the stars in Africa was a new experience for a young city kid like himself.
When he returned to Camp Lejeune, many of his school friends were preparing for their first deployments. Richard joined them at Camp Baharia in Fallujah, Iraq, two years into the Iraq War. Richard was part of a team of about 50 who oversaw communications for the whole base. At times, his unit was working 20-hour days making sure all the missions were able to communicate.
In Fallujah, Richard decided to re-enlist for another four years. He got the option to pick his next duty station and decided on Hawaii. Richard went from a communications unit to an infantry unit in Kaneohe Bay.
Richard spent six years in Hawaii, continuing to extend his time. He says he grew the most as a man and as a Marine during his time in Hawaii. One of the reasons being he gained a better understanding of the scope of danger Marines face when being deployed. In 2008, he was sent to Fallujah again, but this time he was going on covert operations with the infantry unit in the middle of the city. When you go through the experience of fire fights and being in areas that are not secured with your unit, you develop a different type of brotherhood.
After returning from Fallujah, Richard spent three more years in Hawaii before being sent to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Richard returned to a communications unit, this time as a Wire Supervisor. Richard spent a year at Miramar before going on his final deployment to NSA Bahrain Navy Base as a Night Shift Supervisor, and eventually Wire Chief.
In September 2013, Richard hit his 12-year mark with the Marines and he had a choice to make — re-enlist or call it a career.
While in the military, Richard put the rest of his life on hold. He didn't start a family or marry. But over the years, he and his longtime friend, Kimberly, grew close when he was deployed. The Clippers and Kimberly were Richard's two constants. Kimberly wasn't into basketball before she met Richard, but her fandom grew as she got to know him better. Richard says, "She grew into the Clippers family."
After 12 years of service, Richard decided to transition out of the military and started dating Kimberly more seriously. A year and a half later they were married. Now with two young daughters, Richard says they are creating their own Clippers family.
As he was trying to settle into life outside the military, the one thing that hadn’t changed for him was the Clippers. From his childhood to being in service to getting out, the Clippers had always been there for him. After Richard had a long day of work in the Marines, he would watch a game. The Clippers provided the same comfort in his new life. If Richard needed alone time, he would watch a game. The Clippers were something he had always looked forward to.
After service, he went to college, attending Valley college and then CSU Northridge. While attending, he joined veterans groups at both colleges and eventually became the president of both groups. He says he missed the brotherhood and sisterhood of the military and was struggling with transitioning to civilian life. He was comforted by getting perspective from other veterans.
He found himself asking, “Am I crazy to think this way or am I weak to think this way?” Those were the only two options in his head.
Richard says he thought it was weak to seek support. But with encouragement from his wife, he was able to get the help he needed.
Seeing the difference the right help made in his life, Richard’s first thought was he needed to help other veterans who were struggling. So he joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization in San Fernando as a Post Commander. Richard helped change the culture of the organization by getting his friends to join and creating an atmosphere that supports family and healthy living.
Richard’s humble nature comes through when he talks about his work with veterans. He doesn’t see it as noble, just as friends helping friends and sharing knowledge.
The word Richard keeps coming back to when sharing his life experiences is: family. The same word he uses to describe his experience with the Clippers as a team and with other fans.
Richard’s favorite player is Patrick Beverley, relating to Patrick’s journey, betting on himself and never giving up. The bet on himself keeps paying off, Richard conquered a personal goal recently-- he graduated college in 2019.
“In the Marines, it’s incredible the way they make you believe in yourself and give you the tools to succeed not just in the military, but in life in general. It helped me see a different perspective I never could imagine.”