Ukrainian, battle-tested soldier joins Corps' band of brothers
By Cpl. Matt Preston
| | August 23, 2002
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT/EASTERN RECRUITING REGION, PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- --
Forty years ago, soldiers from the Soviet Union who came to the United States would have been considered defectors - today they're considered "prior service."
Lance Corporal Peter Tenenika, Platoon 1062, Delta Co., 1st RTBn, served two years in the Ukrainian Army before coming to the United States and graduating a Marine Aug. 16.
Tenenika was assigned to Ukrainian Army security forces and brings with him actual combat experience. According to Tenenika, his unit was assigned to assist the Russian Army with maintaining order in war-torn Chechnya. He's also participated in 149 jumps, forty-nine of those jumps were combat related in Chechnya.
Tenenika has already noticed differences between the two fighting forces.
"[There's] more teamwork here," he said. Tenenika referred specifically to the heavier emphasis on platoon unity and performance. Also, though basic training the Ukrainian army was six months long, it also combined many elements of the Marine Corps School of Infantry and Marine Combat Training. The age of enlistment is also much younger.
Tenenika became a Ukrainian soldier at the age of 16, when able-bodied men are considered old enough to join their army.
Though successful in his duties while in the Ukrainian Army, the hope of a better way of life in the United States is part of what drew him here.
The 21-year-old Tenenika moved to Medina, Ohio, in 1998 to join his parents who had already lived here for a year. Prior to recruit training, he spent the previous years learning English, going to college and adjusting to the new culture.
Part of the reason for his family's immigration was to escape the organized crime influence that arose after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the owner of his own business, Tenenika's father was forced to pay "mafia taxes," better known as protection money, to local gang members. The freedom from mob rule is a part of what endears Tenenika to the United States.
"I feel like I'm home here", he said. "I feel safe and secure."
Tenenika intends to take full advantage of his new security. He has goals of one day becoming a Marine officer and already has 84 credits towards a degree in international relations. His current military occupational specialty is infantry while he hopes to one day join a Force Reconnaissance unit.
The call to service was too irresistible for Tenenika. He said that he wants to become a career military man. For him, service isn't about a paycheck.
"The Marines isn't a job," he said. "It's a way of life."