Even as an undergraduate, Jonathan Yi knew he wanted a sense of adventure in life that a normal office job could never provide.
“I want/wanted a career where I could make a difference in my community,” Yi told Business Insider through email. “I knew I wanted to do law enforcement at some point, and was strongly considering other areas, such as joining the LAPD or NYPD, for example. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to become a prosecutor because I felt like that was where I could best be utilized.”
This drive for an exemplary life, along with a thirst for adventure, coalesced into a mission to join the military as Yi watched the events of September 11 unfold on television in front of him.
“September 11 obviously had an impact on me, and I remember watching it unfold while I was home in San Diego,” Yi said. “I was in undergraduate school when it occurred … and I felt unfulfilled or unsatisfied. The idea of being in an office environment, at a desk all day, scared me. I didn’t want to look back in 20 or 30 years and regret not joining the military.”
Yi is the first member in his family to have served in the military, though his parents, who emigrated from Korea, have positive memories of the US military dating back to the Korean War.
“[T]he night before my first deployment, my mum would tell me how when she was a little girl, she would wave to the American troops as they drove by,” Yi said. “Flash forward a few weeks later, I was doing the same thing — waving to Iraqi children as our convoy thundered by.”
The Next Generation
In an effort to balance both his parents’ wishes for him to finish school and his own dreams, Yi waited until he graduated from University of California, San Diego with a BA in Psychology to enlist with the Marine Corps in 2006. Eager for adventure and a desire to serve his country almost immediately, Yi took the first posting available: communications.
“I remembered why I entered the military as communications, despite my lack of interest — the communications fields has a high demand in the military, so that was the fastest occupation I could pick,” Yi said. “I basically had one month between meeting my recruiter and getting on the bus to [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] San Diego.”
This drive to serve led to Yi’s serving two tours in Iraq, the first in 2007 and the second in 2008 to 2009. During that time, he served in the Route Clearance Platoon. Route clearance was a critical role for US forces in Iraq, as personnel were responsible for finding and rendering inert Improvised Explosive Devices before they could harm coalition forces or Iraqi civilians.
“During deployment,” Yi said, “I was the field radio operator for a route clearance platoon, so my duties included setting up both short-range and long-range communications between our convoy unit and with friendly bases throughout our AO (area of operations).
During Yi’s second deployment, he took on the additional responsibility of being a squad leader of the platoon’s support squad.
“Together,” said Yi, “we were responsible for making sure that any missions that we were sent on were operationally feasible.”
Two and a half years into Yi’s enlistment, his dedication and hard work led to his promotion to the rank of sergeant. In this role, he became responsible for the professional and personal development of the Marines serving below him.
“The idea of ‘git ‘r done’ is something that’s popularised in USMC culture,” Yi said. “Instead of coming up with excuses, or reasons why you cannot do something, don’t bother your supervisor with reasons ‘why not,’ just tell him when the mission is accomplished.”
Lessons For Law School
When Yi left active duty in January 2010, he didn’t see any immediate use of his military skills — “There aren’t that many MRAPs to drive, or military radios to set up, or IEDs to detect and disarm,” he said — but he got a lot out of the attitude he learned in the Marines.
That attitude helped out when he attended St. John’s Law School in Jamaica, Queens.
“It was difficult for me to listen to fellow students during law school complaining about how much reading they have to do, or how they have no time, or really any sort of whining in general, when the military mentality is to just grit your teeth and bear down,” Yi said.
Today, Yi has a coveted position as an assistant district attorney at the Appeals Bureau at the Queen’s County District Attorney’s Office. He says his time in the military is still paying off.
“[T]he Marine Corps has these “leadership traits” that they ingrain into you, and I think and try to apply those on a daily basis. One of the most influential ones is ‘Know yourself and seek self-improvement.’ … [T]he military taught me that instead of just focusing on my strengths, I should also be trying to shore up my weaknesses.”
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