Weakened auto industry provides opportunity for Virginia Beach Marine

10/26/2009 By Staff Sgt. Luis R. Agostini , Regimental Combat Team 7

Within a week of arriving in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Lance Cpl. Gary Mishoe is prepping his motor pool for his unit’s takeover of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

From preventive maintenance to headlight and tire checks on the unit’s humvees and 7-ton trucks, Mishoe is helping ensure his fellow Marines will operate safe and operable vehicles throughout their deployment.

Mishoe, a 27-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., is currently deployed as a motor transport operator with Regimental Combat Team 7, which will conduct counterinsurgency operations in support of the Afghan national security force throughout the Helmand province.

Mishoe’s path from Virginia Beach to Afghanistan was not a simple high school-to-boot camp route.

Within a year of graduating Open Campus High School in 2002, Mishoe secured a spot on the assembly line at the Chassis Ford Assembly Plant in Norfolk, Va. His job was simple: assemble drive shafts. The task earned him about $75,000 a year. Life was good.

“I felt very secure. I had a good job, an apartment, bought a new car and had a family,” said Mishoe. “I thought I was going to retire there.”

Four years later, the same assembly plant at which Mishoe’s mother had worked at 10 years earlier, could not escape a weakened economy and suffering auto industry. He received three months notice that the plant was shutting down.

“I got a $100,000 severance package. But I still needed a job,” said Mishoe, who had a wife, a toddler and a child on the way at the time.

The Virginian’s life revolved around the auto industry as far back as he can remember. His mother worked at the same assembly line 10 years earlier.

“When I was in high school, I would wash some of my mom’s co-worker’s cars. I was a kid, washing these people’s cars, and then I found myself working right next to them on the assembly line,” he said.

Following the layoff, Mishoe traveled up and down the East Coast, securing modeling gigs at New York fashion shows, and eventually following his wife to Atlanta, Ga.

While in the Atlanta area, Mishoe made the decision to accept a commitment he’s always had on his mind: enlist as a United States Marine. He knew the challenge ahead.

“I knew it was going to be hard, I knew I had to work for it. But I was willing to do it,” he said.

Mishoe also enlisted in a wartime Marine Corps, and fully aware of the chance that he may deploy to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I wanted to come out here and do what Marines do. I’ve been training since boot camp to do this and here I am,” he said.

Mishoe enlisted in the Marine Corps Aug. 11, 2007, and after graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., Mishoe completed follow-on training at Camp Geiger, N.C., and Fort Leonardwood, Mo., where he learned how to become a Marine motor transport operator.

While helping him gain familiarity on the vehicles, Mishoe compares and contrasts his work and life experiences between the assembly line and the Marine Corps.

“Working for Ford was tougher, not because of the job itself, but because of the lack of a team attitude. I was doing the job by myself,” said Mishoe. “There’s a lot more pride in the Marine Corps. If you’re struggling, there’s always someone to help. There’s always that team spirit.”

That team spirit was developed by Mishoe’s small-unit leaders, his noncommissioned and staff noncommissioned officers.

Now in Afghanistan, Mishoe will eventually head out of the forward operating base and into the country roads, driving convoys and leading Marines.

“I want to learn about the Afghan culture, what they’ve been through. I believe that we are helping them in a turning point in their civilization. It’s good that we are here,” he said.

Mishoe also hopes to do some soul searching as well.

“The Marine Corps has helped me become a better father, husband and person. Now I want to learn about myself, about my limits,” said Mishoe, who is starting to grip the mental and physical challenges of operating in a combat environment.

After completing his yearlong deployment, Mishoe hopes to secure a spot at the Marine Inspector/Instructor staff at Chesapeake, Va., approximately 15 miles from the Chassis Ford Plant. The days of the lucrative assembly line are a distant memory, if not a blessing in disguise.

“I’m thinking about the here and now, and the future,” he said. “My prayers were answered. I got what I wanted. I’m a Marine.”