A soldier, a student

Marine+reservist+Phil+Camacho

Marine reservist Phil Camacho

KIMBERLY KRATZ

Marine reservist Phil
Camacho, a liberal arts major
from Warminster, spent seven
months deployed in
Afghanistan.
Originally from New Jersey,
Camacho played baseball and
soccer as a kid, but lately, his
favorite is hockey. With a
wide smile, he said, “I love a
sport where you just let two
people beat the crap out of
each other. I love it.” A fan
of music, he’s partial to classic
rock and roll like AC/DC, Led
Zeppelin and The Rolling
Stones. He also has an affinity
for 2Pac, Biggie and Snoop
Dog. “I love that old gangster
rap,” he said.
Camacho grew up idolizing
his older brother, a Navy chief
who has served since 1993. He
always loved war movies, and
joked that he is “the statistic,”
the stereotypical kid who loved
playing violent video games.
He has noticed that there is a
clique among veterans who
seem to have similar childhood
backgrounds. Always enamored
of the military, he said, “I
used to learn.like, go online
and just find a bunch of [military]
videos.”
In his high school sophomore
year, Camacho knew he didn’t
want to go to college. He
made a decision to join the military.
By junior year, he’d
begun talking to recruiters
from various branches. As
soon as he started talking to a
Marine recruiter, he said, “I
fell in love, the whole Marine
thing, being the first to fight
and all that.”
Reflecting back, he thinks
that most of it was recruiter
propaganda, but “the thing
about the Marine recruiter that
kinda caught my attention was
that. he didn’t really give me
too much bull****.” All of the
other recruiters told him that, if
he joined for four years, he’d
get loads of college money.
While that might have been
the case, the Marine recruiter
was straight with him, saying,
“If you sign up, there is a
chance you might die.” As a
junior in high school, Camacho
was impressed by that eyeopening
honesty, adding,
“That’s like the first thing that
I liked.”
Camacho stepped up talks
with the recruiter and attended
physical training sessions in
order to stay motivated. He
promised himself that, as soon
as he turned 17, he’d try to
convince his parents to let him
sign up.
But, he said, “My parents
couldn’t do that. They didn’t
sign me up. My mom said she
would disown me if I would
have joined. I still wanted to
do it. My dad thought it wasn’t
a 17 year old’s decision.” He
had to wait, but said, “I tried to
pull up every card that I had to
try to convince them,” trying to
s e l e c t ” e a s y ”
jobs that w o u l d
keep him out of
h a r m ‘ s way.
R i g h t after high
s c h o o l , he wanted
to join a s
infantry. Camacho
has no r e g r e t s
now that it didn’t
h a p p e n that way.
The summer after
g r a d u a tion, he
s t a y e d with his
brother, who was
stationed i n
Norfolk, Virginia.
Though they butted heads, he
said, “He kind of convinced
me to go as a reservist,” to
learn a good trade to fall back
on.
In 2006, at 18, Camacho
enlisted with the Marine
Reserves for six years, and left
for boot camp two months
later. He trained to be a helicopter
mechanic to work on air
frames and hydraulics components
on CH53E’s, first in
Pensacola, Florida and then
New River, North Carolina.
Nicknamed “Super Stallion”,
the massive CH53E choppers
supports about 54 people when
fully loaded.
After training, he continued
on reserve status, working one
weekend each month until
2009, when his unit was activated
for a year and deployed.
The first month or two prior to
the date, they spent time on the
ground in Afghanistan preparing
for deployment. The
mechanics of helicopter repair,
he said, are more hands on,
“For a full year, I had no idea
what my job was. I knew the
basics,” the book version of
what he was taught in training
school.
“I was what they call a
nugget. Pretty much a crash
course, I learned most of my
job while I was actually out
there in Afghanistan,”
Camacho explained. Spending
about two months in Kandahar,
his unit, Heavy Helicopter
Squadron 772 “Hustlers” of
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania,
met up with a more experienced
active duty unit from
California, HMH361. There,
his unit split into groups to
learn everything.
Staff Sgt. Roman Yurek, a
writer for the Marines, said,
“Like many squadrons, this
was the Hustlers’ first deployment
to Afghanistan. While
training for deployment, the
Hustlers were outfitted with
new aircraft. This added extra
duties to the squadron as they
completed training and had to
prepare the new aircraft for
deployment.”
Camacho’s unit was part of
the first group sent to Camp
Leatherneck in Helmand
Province, formerly part of
British base Camp Bastian.
“When we were there, they
were just building up Camp
Leatherneck, so we had nothing,
he said. “They sent a
whole bunch of the nuggets
down there to set up tents, set
up all this stuff, post security,
do things like this in the middle
of the desert, this huge-
***desert,” he added. He volunteered
for security forces for
about a month in June 2009.
Shortly after, his work in helicopter
repair began.
“The whole reason we were
there, we were supposed to be
part of this Operation Kanjari,
which is ‘Dari for ‘tip of
spear,'” Camacho explained.
Mandated by President
Obama, and set to begin on
July 1, 2009, the operation was
designed to finish the U.S.
work in Afghanistan. It was
the largest air assault since
Vietnam.
Of the grueling schedule, he
recalled, “From there, it was
14-hour shifts for every single
day. We’d send out the grunts,
the infantry guys, they’d do
their job, we’d resupply them,
all the time, day and night.”
So that the assault could
operate on a 24 hour cycle, the
mechanics split into 12 hour
shifts, but Camacho said
they’d usually last for 14
because they’d have to be
brought up to speed by the
prior shift, and, in turn, do the
same for the following shift.
So it went daily for seven
months. He only recalls that in
that time, during which he lost
40 pounds, he only had one
day off. His squadron didn’t
lose a single helicopter during
his deployment, though he
said, “the squadron next to
ours, which were the Hueys
and Cobras, did lose two birds
while we were out there.”
Transitioning back to a civilian
life after deployment is
challenging, even for a
reservist. It’s obvious that he’s
proud of his service, but he’s
humble about it. He views his
job as an air winger as somewhat
less impressive than that
of the grunts, saying, “I played
a fairly small role, just maintaining
the helicopters, and
remember I was a complete
rookie when I got out there,
and with not too much predeployment
training.”
Perhaps most telling is the
undertone of respect and
appreciation that he has for
those vets he has befriended at
Bucks who are the grunts or
who have had multiple deployments.
“I always had that picture
in my head about Vietnam
vets coming home… I wasn’t
expecting at all that they’d be
so supportive,” he said, while
acknowledging that there are
some people who hate the military.
He would rather they
keep their opinions to themselves.
When asked about what
Bucks is doing for veterans,
Camacho said, “They’re doing
an amazing job. I would have
never figured I’d be going to
school, that they’d actually
have a veterans lounge.” He
thinks it’s great that vets can
hang out, eat lunch there or
whatever. “The veterans
lounge is a really easy way to
make that transition” from military
to civilian life.
Camacho hopes to get some
prerequisite classes out of the
way at Bucks, and possibly
transfer to Drexel as a business
major. He’s taking four traditional
classes this semester.
As for the vets who hang at
the Stars and Stripes Lounge,
Camacho said, “The whole
thing is like a real brotherhood.”