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Former infantryman trades rifles for pencils

Retired Marine captain leads NJROTC cadets

Photo by Somari Carr

Photo by Somari Carr

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While unlacing his shoe strings and hanging up his uniform, it becomes clear to Mark Ortiz that after 20 years of serving in the Marine Corps, it would be his last time being recognized as a soldier.

Instead of commanding soldiers he has taken on the duty of mentoring new cadets. As Ortiz reaches the next chapter in his life, he wants to teach students about different routes they can take through the military, by showing them that enlisting into the armed forces could benefit their future.

“The Marine Corps appealed to me as a challenge,” Ortiz said. “I wanted to be challenged and I wanted to be a part of the best.”

His career in the military began the summer before his senior year of high school; Ortiz received a call from a Navy recruiter asking if he was interested in joining. Almost immediately after the phone call ended with the Navy recruiter, a Marine recruiter called and persuaded him into meeting with him thirty minutes before his appointment with the Navy.

After speaking with the Marine recruiter, Ortiz decided to join the Marines instead. Once he left the Marine Corps recruiting office, Ortiz was fueled with ambition and purpose. He no longer dreaded thinking about what to do after graduating from high school.

“I watched everything I could to prepare for bootcamp and trained daily to make sure I was in peak physical condition to properly prepare for recruit training,” Ortiz said.

Because Ortiz was the first of his siblings to enlist, it was difficult for his mother to accept his choice. But after talking to his mom and showing her the benefits and knowledge he would gain from the military, she supported his decision to serve.

“My mother was terrified of me joining the Marine Corps but was supportive,” Ortiz said. “She is extremely proud of the career I enjoyed and everything I was able to accomplish. Now I do not believe she would have had it any other way. I believe my brothers were all motivated by my call to service to sign up themselves.”

While Ortiz was serving as an infantryman in the Marine Corps, he knew he couldn’t have a career that risked his life every day. He always wanted to help others and with the knowledge he acquired from serving in the Marine Corps, he can now share the lessons he’s learned as an instructor.

“I found a passion for passing on knowledge and making young adults into the best versions of themselves that they can be,” Ortiz said. “After retiring, I considered the program and figured it is the perfect way to continue to serve our great country.”

Following the retirement of commander Bob Stuart, Ortiz received the position as an instructor for the NJROTC program and plans on recruiting potential cadets as he works alongside Chief Kenneth Wright. They send out senior officers to nearby middle schools to speak with students about drill teams and trips the unit takes.

“We’re focusing on eighth graders transitioning to the ninth grade and letting them know more about the [program] and how we conduct ourselves especially while wearing the uniform,” Wright said. “We are going to ensure that our cadets are setting the example so people can know what this program represents.”

Ortiz wants the unit to exemplify a higher level of control and display great character in all classrooms as far as behavior is concerned.

“Whether you’re wearing the uniform or just wearing regular clothes you should display the same amount of character and diligence and respect to others,” Ortiz said.

Instead of having one physical fitness day like last year, two are held on Mondays and Fridays. Even though the cadets lost an instructor, they are all thankful Stuart ensured future NJROTC students were left with someone who has a clear direction and ability to provide motivation for whatever the unit needs to accomplish.

“Captain has improved the class in various different ways,” senior Dustin Fowler said. “He has added more physical training for short [days] and drill days which will make us stronger as a unit. So far a huge noticeable change in our performance and team working skills has happened because of him.”

In his new position as a teacher, Ortiz strives to be a role model for students and be a living example of how their lives can change while being in the Armed Forces.

“I plan on steering Lewisville cadets toward a life of purpose,” Ortiz said. “My personal goal for my cadets is to ensure [they all] graduate from my program [and] will be enrolling in college or enlisting into the Armed Services.”

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Former infantryman trades rifles for pencils