East grad Castaneda finds what he wants in Marines

By Baylie Evans

CHEYENNE -- Sean Castaneda, a 2006 graduate of Cheyenne's East High, always knew he wanted to be in the military.

Now he is a corporal and a Marine advisor, spending most of his time in Africa.

Here is a condensed version his story, in his own words:

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I've always wanted to be in the military. I used to want to be a naval aviator and over the years it turned into wanting to be a paratrooper, which eventually led into becoming a Marine.

Other things that I wanted to be when I grew up: a police officer, an astronaut, emperor of the United States of America, a Bic lighter repairman and a rock star.

Rock stardom is still on the to-do list. I might be the ripe old age of 21, but we'll see how that works out when I do grow up.

After high school, what did you do?

Even before the first semester of high school, I had already signed up to become a Marine. Because I signed up so early in the school year, I had a date set for me to go to boot camp and I only spent a week home after graduation.

What made you want to become a Marine?

Other recruiters offered signing bonuses and promises of everything just to convince me. My recruiter talked more about what it is and what it means to be a Marine; honor, courage, commitment, tradition and being part of something bigger than myself.

My parents hated the idea. I fought with my parents over it, they fought back. They told the recruiters not to call me, so we stayed in communication by cell phone instead of using the house phone. It was back and forth in the battle of wills and ultimately I won.

Can't say that I blame them; the war in Iraq had been going on for two and half years and it simply was a parent's nightmare.

What is your current job?

I am a Marine advisor as part of a new unit called MCTAG. My team's area of responsibility is almost the entire African continent in which we travel to different countries and participate in Security Force Assistance.

SFA includes the tasks of organizing, training, equipping, rebuilding and advising foreign security forces and foreign security institutions. It's a different part of the war on terror, so that other nations cannot only provide security and stability for their own legitimate authority but also provide the same of other countries. Not only are we providing assistance in this way, we are also helping to establish closer ties and partnerships in Africa.

We just returned a month ago from a five-month deployment to Africa. We visited Senegal twice, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Spain twice, and Portugal over a five-month period.

Currently, we are awaiting orders to go back to Africa, but in the mean time we are still doing some great training that'll further my career in the long run.

What are your responsibilities?

My specific areas of responsibility are instructing and training in intelligence disciplines as well as instructing and training marksmanship skills.

However, this is all about to change because I just volunteered for a year-long tour to Africa starting in November, so currently I am working toward that deployment.

What is the best part of your job?

I would say that the best parts of my job are the opportunities that become available.

It definitely is not a traditional duty for a young Marine such as myself, and that is what makes it even more unique to me. (There is) not one sole thing that would best explain why I love my job and what I do.

Is there a part you don't like?

Sure. But nothing more than what you would dislike about any other job.

Sometimes the work isn't fun at all, but I understand it. It is, after all, what I asked for by signing up, yes?

Objectively speaking, there is a reason for doing it all. When something needs to get done, just do it without complaints -- or at least loud ones -- and get it done and you'll live.

I could be in Iraq or Afghanistan hating life. But I will say that if I never go to either of those two places, I will feel as though I missed out and like a letdown to anyone who has served there.

Tell me about this "Nashville Idol" that you won.

The Nashville Idol was an MWR (Moral, Welfare, and Recreation) event that was the USS Nashville's version of American Idol. However this was more of a talent show more than just singing. At stake: $300 in cash, American currency.

Another Marine and I were going to sing a song we had recently written over a couple of long inebriated nights in Liberia. The other Marine was supposed to sing and I was going to play guitar, and it ended up not working out that way.

So I chose the one song I knew for sure I could sing and that song was "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses.

I went up in front of the entire crew of 200 plus, maybe an additional 100 ship riders and all my Marine brethren, alone with my guitar. I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out and just prayed for a quick death or at least not have anything thrown at me or booed off stage.

I ended up not only being the only Marine to go up in front of an all-Navy crowd, I actually won. And the sailors really didn't like this because, with the ship being decommissioned after that tour, I was the last "Nashville Idol."

In the context of the big picture, this was nothing. The military has all kinds of events such as this and it just a way to get past being away from home and being away from family and just coming together as a group and enjoying life.

It is moments like this that -- for just an hour -- it's not about work or getting promoted or stressing out over the next mission. And that's why these events are set up.

Do you ever think about returning to Cheyenne?

I know it is my hometown where I grew up and was raised, and maybe someday I'll come to appreciate that when I'm older. But for now I believe that, in order to experience things truly, I cannot be living in Cheyenne or anywhere close to there.

I like the big cities like Los Angeles or New York City where everything is changing and moving.

Sadly, I will admit that every time I do go home, I'm disappointed because nothing has changed. For better or worse, only I have changed.

Did you ever imagine that you'd be doing what you're doing now?

No. I knew that sometime in my life time I would be deployed, but I always imagined it being to Afghanistan or Iraq getting shot at and kicking down doors and taking names.

Instead here I am now, just a young man who has taken the opportunity of a lifetime, made the most of it and been to places you only see on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic.

In some ways it wasn't a good experience. I've been involved with helping to bring stability to nations that need it but aren't getting the attention like Iraq and Afghanistan.

We delivered some school supplies to a small, run-down missionary church and the little kids were happy to see us. There is nothing more rewarding than watching that little kid smile because now he or she has something to write with and write on, and knowing that I helped bring this child just a little bit of happiness -- no matter how simple it was.

It's not always about killing bad guys. Sometimes the opportunity for a child to learn is enough to bring happiness and a future to someone. And knowing that I helped out, then that makes me feel good too.