San Benito native proud to serve his country

SAN BENITO — Lt. Col. Johnny G. Garza enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1990.

Since then, he has dedicated his life to serving his country.

“I knew that I wanted to join the military,” he said. “When I ended up joining the Marine Corps I fell in love with it and decided to make it a career.”

Love of country was a belief instilled in him at an early age. Though he never served in the military, Garza’s grandfather believed everyone had a responsibility to their country.

For about 26 years, Garza has moved up in the ranks doing just that.

The San Benito native took command of Marine Detachment Fort Lee, Virginia, on June 10, an honor bestowed only on a select few.

“There’s a small percentage that get selected for this. So, it’s a pretty big deal,” he said.

Marine Detachment Fort Lee, or MarDet, was established in 1983.

Its mission is to develop, support, manage and provide resident, entry, intermediate and career individual-skill level, standards-based training.

MarDet Fort Lee is responsible for training entry-level enlisted Marines, including personnel retrieval and processing, airborne and air delivery specialists, bulk fuel specialists, food service specialists, small arms repairer technicians, towed artillery systems technicians, light armored vehicle repairer technicians, electro-optical ordnance repairers, ammunition technicians, welders, metal worker and many other disciplines.

MarDet Fort Lee maintains a staff of approximately 180 Marines and has an annual output of nearly 2,500 students. Importantly, the MarDet mission includes acting as a proponent for specified Military Occupational Specialty communities to support operating force manpower requirements.

Commanding entry level Marines takes Garza back to when he first started out.

“That was me 26 years ago. Being able to be there to help shape and mold our Marines is an honor,” Garza said.

On average, between 800 and 900 Marines will be under his command.

Garza said because their studies are shorter than normal and they may only be on base for a month or two, it’s hard to get to know each and every Marine.

“It’s hard to impact every single soul but for me, I have a great staff that helps with that,” he said.

“One of the things I am trying to do is get out where we are training our Marines and talk to them when I can.”

In addition to having traveled all over the world representing the Marine Corps and the country, Garza’s personal decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal with two gold stars in lieu of a third award, Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal with two gold star, Joint Service Achievement Medal and the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife Betsy and their dog Marco.