The Pony Express

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My experience in the country of Qatar

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Marine Expeditionary Unit
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Marine Expeditionary Unit official flag

Jose M. Avila

Jose M. Avila

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Most of us want to travel see new and exciting places and also meet new people. For me this became true in the most unusual and memorable way. The year was 1988, I had no real plan for life other than dream big and drive a cool car, I’d just graduated from high school, I had no money and I was trying to find myself. But life was good, and with no real sense of purpose or direction I did what most guys my age did – watch T.V., go to the arcade, listen to heavy metal music, and hang around with my buddies.

On Tuesday morning one of my friends called me and asked me to go and do a favor for another of our buddies. We went to a U.S. Marines recruitment office, and while the details are hazy for me, all I remember was that when we left the office, all three of us had enlistment papers and a copy of bus tickets for the following Monday for San Diego, California. What happened next changed my outlook in life; after eleven rigorous weeks in boot camp and a two-month training in Camp Pendleton, I was assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with deployments in the Middle East. We shipped out to the country of Qatar.

Have you ever been enthusiastic about meeting new people, knowing their culture, their language, or just their name? Everyone does to a certain extent. I had no idea when I enlisted that was part of the package. The recruiter told us the U.S. Government was going to provide financial assistance for our college tuition after a short enlistment, but he left out the part of how the impact of this decision will forever change my outlook on life. This life experience changed me in a positive and collective manner because of how the military  and the people of Qatar — a country most of us never heard of — formed an alliance and friendship that will last for a lifetime.

As we landed in Qatar in 1989 the impact of the people, the terrain, and their customs greatly differ from us, culturally, religiously, and socially. The women at the time had no social position or freedom as they do today, the country had no police department  except what they call the religious police – enforcing their orthodox belief in Islam- we were told that we were not there to admire their culture, but to train their military and build defensive posts for the protection of their people.

Qatar, a country that sits at the edge of the Persian Gulf to the south of its neighboring country of Saudi Arabia is no bigger than biggest county in Texas. Qatar has lots of nice and interesting people with the same dreams that you and I have: success, love, pride, patriotism, and a currency that rivals the Euro and the U.S. dollar: the Dinar, which also trades on the New York Stock Exchange in the Foreign Currency stock. At the time the country had a monarchy rule by the Emir Khalifa, one of the richest men at that time, and his political concerns were at ease once we established their defensive protocols.

This experience taught me that people are people and need somebody to rely on in times of need. That goes for individuals and nations alike. While stationed in Qatar, I made some friends: Sayeed Ghani, Omar Iqbal, and Mohammad Aziz. We have kept in touch with each other, even after more than 30 years. What an experience!

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