By Karen Elowitt
Signal Staff Writer
661-259-1234 x526
Local Marine headed for Afghanistan
• Buck McKeon attended the 'shipping out' party.

It's a long way from the Santa Clarita Valley to Afghanistan, but Lance Corporal Daryl Crookston is packed and rarin' to go.

Crookston, 19, of Valencia, is shipping out with his unit next Sunday for at least a seven-month tour of duty that will take him to one of the most dangerous places on earth. Despite the risks, he is not having second thoughts.

"I guess I'm a little nervous because I don't know what to expect, but our training has been excellent and I am prepared for whatever is out there," Crookston said during a going-away party held in his honor last Saturday night at his parents' house.

Dozens of family members and friends joined together to see Crookston off, including Congressman Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), who presented him with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.

"I've never seen anything like this!" McKeon exclaimed, referring to the street where his parents live, which was festooned with dozens of American flags and signs wishing the young Marine well. "They should do something like this every time someone ships out."

Crookston didn't always want to be a Marine, but once he decided to join last year, he gave it his all. After graduating from the COC's Academy of the Canyons high school, he heard that some of his buddies were joining up, and he got curious.

"I was adamant about not joining, but then I did a lot of research and liked what I was seeing," he said. "I grew up in patriotic family, so I just decided to go for it."

A former Eagle Scout, Crookston was impressed by the code of honor and ethics embodied by the Marines, and decided to enlist as a full-time soldier. He will spend four years in active service, and another four years after that as a reservist.

Though he tested near the top of his class and qualified for many higher positions, Crookston opted to become an infantryman so he could participate in front-line combat operations.

"That's where the hard work is done," he said.

For the last several months Crookston has been training with the Gulf unit at Camp Pendleton and in Twentynine Palms, during which time his parents have seen a dramatic transformation in their son.

"He's a different guy than he was when he went in," said Kim Crookston, Lance Corporal Crookston's father. "He's more serious and mature, and more spiritual. "We're proud he's willing to make this sacrifice at a time when he could be doing other things."

His mother, Kymmer Crookston, is also proud of her son but is naturally a little apprehensive. "Of course as a mother I worry about him and sometimes wish he'd take a different path," she said. "But I support him all the way. I feel like he's going in with the right attitude. He's the kind of Marine that Marines are supposed to be."

"I've been dreading this day," said Troy Norton, an old friend of Crookston's. "He's a great guy."

They hope to stay connected to him, despite the distance, and plan to send a constant stream of letters and care packages to their man on the front lines.

"I am looking forward to getting letters," Crookston said, revealing only a whisper of concern about what he's about to face, and what he'll be leaving behind. "I heard letters are like gold out there."