Topics: College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Athletics
April 30, 2016
In a part of Indiana where metal Meth Watch Community signs share the same post as a town’s welcome and population stats, it’s sometimes hard to imagine what lies beyond the borders. In Monon, Indiana, Anthony Marquez watched his parents rail against the town’s challenges by going to work each day at a factory that fed their kids, if not their souls, and he never thought too much about the future.
Anthony Marquez will graduate with honors Saturday. Then, he will head to graduate school to pursue a career in sport management. He hopes one day to be a general manager for a professional team.
That began to change on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I never saw my dad cry, but we were watching the news that night, and he got pretty choked up,” Marquez said. “He hated seeing America under attack, and he said he would be proud of any of his (three) children who would defend this country.”
Marquez had an uncle who had been a Marine, and he always looked up to him, but the 13-year-old didn’t connect the dots. Two years later, Marquez helplessly watched his father die of cancer, and the future seemed even further from his mind.
“I played three sports, but I didn’t care at all about school,” Marquez said. “My friends ... some of them were going to end up in jail, some maybe, you know, dead, some would be going to work at the factory.
“But me? I didn’t know.”
He knows now, as he prepares to graduate from Ball State with honors Saturday and weighs graduate school offers. But the journey in between would first send him into the Marine Corps and later to Afghanistan, during one of the deadliest years there for U.S. troops. He would meet an education-minded mentor, and learn what it takes to succeed over cups of tea and games of chess.
A young leader
Marquez’s childhood in Monon offered glimpses of that potential, as well as the challenges he would overcome.
“He wasn't a great student ... but he was always a great leader. ... He has an inner drive, and as he was finishing high school, he started to get a focus.”
— Kirk Quasebarth
Marquez's sixth grade social studies teacher
“He wasn’t a great student at North White,” said Kirk Quasebarth, not unkindly. Quasebarth was Marquez’s sixth-grade social studies teacher, and one of his football, wrestling and baseball coaches at White North Jr.-Sr. High School. “But he was always a great leader. Tony would lead the football team out onto the field to that song ‘Who Let the Dogs Out,’ and he’d have all the other boys barking. He has an inner drive, and as he was finishing high school, he started to get a focus.”
After floundering a bit, and with no deep love for school but a strong desire to leave Indiana, Marquez decided the military was his best bet. He recalled his uncle and a long-ago conversation with a now-deceased father, and his mind was made.
“He struggled for a time,” Quasebarth said. “He had to cut weight to get in, and I remember seeing him running, literally around Monon, every single day to make the cut.
“But once he was in, the military was where his ambitiousness really came out. That’s where his drive to be the best really took hold.”
Talking about education
Anyone on active duty will willingly go to war when called upon to do so, Marquez said. It’s a badge of honor, something that those who wear the uniform understand in a way that someone who hasn’t simply can’t. Marquez was ready to do his part, but he watched, frustrated, for more than two years, as other units were getting called up and his was left behind.
Marquez was decorated with a Good Conduct Medal and two Navy Achievement Medals during his time in the Marines. “That’s really rare,” said retired Gunnery Sgt. P. Ernesto Aquino of the U.S. Marines.
“He was a young Marine, and not too impressed yet with what the Marines were all about when we met up,” said retired Gunnery Sgt. P. Ernesto Aquino, head of Marquez’s unit. “To be honest, he’d had some previous unit leaders who weren’t good for him. The first thing I did was to sit down with him and find out about him. Anthony came from humble beginnings, but I saw that he was determined.
“So I challenged him to education.”
Aquino shared not only the opportunities that awaited Marquez within the Corps but talked about what life could hold when, someday, the younger man would be discharged from the Marines.
“I was straightforward,” Aquino said. “I told him, ‘You can’t do anything without education.’ When I was a single parent, I was taking classes, because no matter how busy you are, you’re never too busy for education.”
Marquez had little time to consider the words, as soon he, Aquino and the rest of their unit got the chance to go overseas. The group was destined for Helmand province in Afghanistan in a year that would record some of the worst casualty numbers for Americans and Afghans alike. According to Department of Defense reports, 496 Americans were killed. Locals fared even worse, with 2,459 Afghans killed in 2010. Marquez and his unit were headed right into the middle of it all.
A loyal, unselfish Marine
Almost as soon as they landed in country, Marquez fell ill and was shipped out to Germany for medical treatment.
“He is a sweet, honest man that life has dealt a bunch of bad things to, but instead of that turning into something bad, it’s made him a better man.”
— retired Gunnery Sgt.
P. Ernest Aquino
head of Marquez's unit
“I was really worried about him,” Aquino said. “He was sick, I mean really sick. Command told me he wasn’t coming back.”
So Aquino figured that Marquez was like so many of the hundreds of other men who had served under him—an individual he hoped he had connected with, but someone who he would probably never truly know.
“Next thing, I turn around, and here’s Anthony standing in front of me,” Aquino said. “He says, ‘Did you think I would leave you? I would never leave you in combat.’ He went against doctors’ orders to come back to the team.”
Marquez took his responsibilities as a maintenance management specialist seriously—it was his job to make sure the Humvees his team traveled in had enough, and the right type of armor to protect service members from improvised explosive devices (IED). His unit was hitting dozens of IEDs a month and losing dozens of the so-called ‘mine roller’ systems each week.
“It was my responsibility to do everything I could to help get these mine rollers fixed or get new ones from the U.S. This equipment was saving lives, and I had to do everything possible to keep Marines in the fight.”
His job also put him in contact with several Afghan translators.
Sharing tea, games of chess and conversation inspired Marquez to take advantage of every opportunity he found after his tour in Afghanistan ended.
“We would sit and play chess, and one time, I showed them a video of a trip I’d made to Sea World with my family before we had shipped out,” Marquez said. “They had never seen the sea before, had never seen those types of animals. Being able to talk with them, to share with them, and to see what they were doing to make their country and their lives better ...
“Learning about their culture, being able to build those relationships ... we used to drink tea together and talk about dreams, talk about ideas,” Marquez said, his own ideas taking shape. “I saw the value of things we often take for granted. In America, you have the opportunity to change your social class with hard work, determination and education.”
All of those experiences were building the man and the Marine, aligning Marquez with 14 leadership traits—including unselfishness, integrity and courage—that everyone in the Corps aspires to.
“Anthony met every single one of them,” Aquino said. “He’s become like a son to me. He is a sweet, honest man that life has dealt a bunch of bad things to, but instead of that turning into something bad, it’s made him a better man.”
Nothing less than his best
After returning to the States but before his official honorable discharge, Marquez was already completing classwork at a community college, preparing for the four-year degree he would pursue. The formerly average student completed exhaustive research about schools, choosing the sport administration degree path at Ball State and signing on to be a student manager for the baseball team.
“When Anthony is in a class, his work ethic essentially holds a mirror up to everyone else. ... He forces others to consider their own work, and he never accepts less than the best.””
— Liz Wanless
assistant professor of sport administration
“My biggest love my whole life, other than my family, has been sports,” he said. “I knew I wanted to spend my life somehow connected to sports. And I knew that I could not be an average student.”
Those many talks with Aquino—on patrol, in the barracks, over the phone—came rushing back. “He graduated magna cum laude, going to school while fulfilling his duties as a Marine and as father,” Marquez said of his “gunny.” “He challenged me to do better than him. I know he has high expectations for me and I didn’t want to let him down.”
Saturday, Marquez graduates summa cum laude. And as he weighs which graduate school offer to take, from universities including Florida, he leaves knowing his mission to make a mark at Ball State is complete.
“In class, you have high-energy, motivated students ... and then you have Anthony,” said Liz Wanless, assistant professor of sport administration and coordinator of the undergraduate program. “It’s hard for me to say what drives him, except that he really wants to get everything right. And right means it has to be his best. It’s an expectation he has of himself but also those around him.”
Wanless, who was both a teacher and adviser for Marquez, said that drive is what he will be remembered for.
“In classes, he was well-received by some and not by others. Because when Anthony is in a class, his work ethic essentially holds a mirror up to everyone else. They have to ask themselves, ‘How am I doing? Am I working as hard? Am I putting as much energy into this?’ He forces others to consider their own work, and he never accepts less than the best.”
Pressing for perfect
“His service to our country, his selflessness to our program, his academic excellence and his love for Ball State put him in the highest regard of anyone I’ve had the privilege of working with during my 21 years as a head coach,” said Rich Maloney, head baseball coach. “I am proud to call him my friend.”
It’s why when friends or strangers congratulate Marquez on graduating with honors, he smiles but shakes his head, unwilling to fully accept the adulation. A single, solitary B that Marquez received in a marketing elective is keeping him from a perfect 4.0.
And it’s driving him crazy.
“Oh, that B will haunt him,” Aquino said. “He’s talked about it with me, and he’s frustrated and angry with himself for it.”
Wanless agreed. “Oh yeah, that B is going to drive him crazy for the rest of his life.”
And yet, it’s that B that will keep Marquez motivated, he said, as he furthers his education and someday moves into a job managing a professional sports team. He owes it to himself, he said, to the people like his younger brother who look up to him and to the people who trusted, pushed and believed in him.
“Very few people gave me a chance or thought I could do something more than go work in a factory, do drugs or go to jail. My dad had to drop out of high school to help my grandmother raise the family. My coaches challenged me and kept me on the right path. I can’t let them down.”
Marquez hopes that if his father is watching, he’s pleased.
“I hope he sees that I work very hard because I saw him work very, very hard. I hope he sees someone who never gives up. I hope he sees a man—someone who, when things get tough, keeps on going, keeps on grinding.
“I hope he sees his son, working to make him proud.”