This is one of those stories that has a lot of serendipitous twists and turns to it, that finds a surprising set of unplanned detours and, ultimately, becomes a real success story. I found it in the Marine Times. The main character of this story is a first-generation American whose mother was from the Dominican Republic and whose father was from Cuba. His name is Ryan San Juan, and he is a United States Marine. He wanted to be a military musician but has become a legend in the Corps for successfully performing the difficult duties of evacuating two U.S. embassies within the span of one year.
San Juan grew up in Miami, FL. He was interested in music and took up the clarinet early on. When he was in 7th grade, a teacher of his attended one of the performances he was in and was impressed with the obvious talent the young San Juan possessed. That teacher told him if he wanted to go to college, he should audition for one of the U.S. Military bands. While in high school, he looked into all of the services. The Navy told him that he needed a higher ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) score. The Air Force recruiting office was closed, and the Army recruiter didn’t quite know what to do with a musician in the Army. But when he went to the Marine Corps recruiter, he “felt like for the first time, somebody was listening to me. And eventually, they were able to set me up with an audition.”
He went to boot camp, and, after graduating, he was assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve Band in New Orleans, where he performed in Mardi Gras parades and command functions. This is a good place to be reminded that “every Marine is a rifleman.” Yes, even Marine musicians.
His first enlistment was coming to an end when he saw some social media posts from a Marine musician who was traveling the world as a Marine security guard, and he got interested. He re-upped for a second enlistment and went to Marine Security Group school for training. His first assignment was in Baghdad as a watchstander. Over the next three years, he would serve in embassies in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Canberra, Australia. Then he went back to being a musician with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Regiment in Okinawa, Japan. By this time, his second enlistment was coming to a close, and he was thinking about getting out but was offered an opportunity that he could not refuse. He returned to the Marine Security Group, but this time as a 1st Sgt. and a newly trained detachment commander.
In this capacity, he was sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, in June of 2021. He was in charge of keeping the embassy open. In August, he received orders to evacuate the embassy within 48 hrs. He oversaw the shredding of documents and the destruction of sensitive electronics and organized the transportation of embassy personnel by helicopter to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, where they boarded planes to leave Afghanistan. He slept little over those two days. He and his Marine Security Team were the last to leave the embassy on the 16th of August, 2021. In the Marine Times article, he is quoted saying, “It was a surreal moment. That moment was when things started to sort of come into light that I might have done something important.” He did.
After completing that evacuation mission, he returned to Marine Corps Embassy Security Group headquarters in Quantico, VA. On the following Monday, he was given new options for his next duty station. He chose Kyiv, Ukraine. He arrived in Kyiv in September of 2021 and enjoyed some touristy experiences for a few short weeks in that beautiful city. Then, in October, Russia started massing troops on the Ukrainian border, and, five months later, San Juan would be given the responsibility of evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. He would, again, conduct a professional organization of the evacuation of yet another embassy. Most USMC Embassy Security watchstanders or detachment commanders have never had the experience. San Juan has done it twice, and both within one year.
He has become a legend in the USMC Embassy Security Group. He is often called upon to speak about the experiences and to train other embassy detachment commanders how to undertake and carry out such duties if called upon. At the present moment, San Juan is the detachment commander at the U.S. Embassy in Muscat, Oman.
So much for a career as a military band member. And so it goes sometimes. The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote these lines in his poem “To A Mouse:” “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Isn’t that the case for many of us? We plan a life, a career, a course of studies, and suddenly find ourselves thrust by happenstance, or serendipitous choices, into doing things we never planned on. 1st Sgt. Ryan San Juan wanted to be a musician but ended up being a Marine legend.
Bravo Zulu, 1st Sgt. San Juan. Semper Fi!Whizzco