He stood tall, looking over the top of everyone in the crowded restaurant. He could be spotted from a mile away, not because of his height, but because of the uniform he wore.
His pride and confidence made him seem that much taller than everyone around him. His blood stripe lined the side of his pant leg and his shoes were so perfectly shined, Gabriel Mendez Ramirez could see his reflection staring back at him.
Ramirez’s eyes lit up observing this seemingly perfect person. He knew nothing about the uniform he wore or who he was, so he marched up to him and asked.
He was a United States Marine and from that day forward, Ramirez was determined that he would one day become a part of the Corps and earn his Eagle, Globe and Anchor.
Years later Ramirez walked the halls of Rancho Buena Vista High School. And as he walked by, classmates and friends would call out “Meatball”, in reference to the 365-pound freshman.
Near the end of his sophomore year he met Staff Sgt. Anna Rodrigues. She talked to his class about the Marine Corps and shared her story and experiences. After class she pulled him aside and asked him what he was interested in.
“She looked at me, not at my weight,” Ramirez recalled. “She told me ‘It’s all up to you if you want it,’ and from there I got her card.”
All throughout his junior year he went back and forth between determination and self-doubt. His self-doubt came from numerous people in his life telling him what he could and couldn’t do.
Other branches of service told him because of his weight he would never make it. Then he saw Rodrigues again and visited Recruiting Sub-Station Oceanside for the very first time.
“I did my first workout with them and it killed me,” said Ramirez. “I ran a 26-minute mile and a half, I couldn’t do any pull-ups, and I couldn’t even do 20 crunches. But, they always encouraged me, motivated me, and pushed me.”
Ramirez continued to show up and put in the work. He started losing weight, but something was holding him back.
He hit a road block on his weight loss and became discouraged because he had other obstacles to tackle, he stated. Not only did he have weight to lose, he needed to improve his test scores to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
“I stopped showing up,” said Ramirez. “I wasn’t in a very good place, and I put back on all the weight I had worked hard to lose.”
About a month had gone by and Ramirez convinced himself he wasn’t a good fit for the Marine Corps. Rodrigues never gave up though.
“She called me and asked, ‘What happened? I thought you wanted it,’” said Ramirez. “I asked her, ‘Why are you wasting your time on me?’”
She then told him he was not a waste of time, stated Ramirez. Rodrigues knew that he wanted to be a Marine and saw his motivation and potential.
Ramirez was shocked. He grew up with a single mother who worked long hours to provide for him and his siblings.
He had never felt that type of encouragement before, he stated. Rodrigues always told him he could do anything he put his mind to.
“I started working out again,” said Ramirez. “I even ended up joining the wrestling team. My coach was a Marine Veteran and he really helped me a lot.”
His coach taught him persistence and dedication, but shortly after Ramirez joined the team his coach and mentor left.
His new coach and teammates brought him down and told him he would never reach his goals on his own, stated Ramirez.
“The team didn’t really like me,” said Ramirez. “At first I didn’t let it get to me, but once my new coach told me ‘You suck.’ His words really hit me hard and I quit the team.”
Ramirez was putting everything he could into bettering himself, but everyone around him was putting him down. People told him he couldn’t do it, so obviously he couldn’t, recalled Ramirez when talking about his state of mind at the time.
Rodrigues was always there for him though. She called or texted him every day to encourage him and see how he was doing, Ramirez stated.
Ramirez went back and forth between his confidence and self-doubt until Rodrigues gave him the final push to where he is now.
“She showed up at my house one day out of the blue,” said Ramirez. “She really put me in check that day. She told me to stop doubting myself and just put my mind to what I want to accomplish. I was the only one that could make this happen for me. No one could do it for me.”
That final push got Ramirez to where he is today. Now, Ramirez is physically and mentally ready for Marine Corps recruit training. He lost 186 pounds and is preparing to leave for Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.