CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
What if you were born outside of the United States and lived a part of your childhood – or all of it – in the Philippines? Or maybe Brazil is where you called home. If not the Philippines, or Brazil, how does Rwanda sound? The list goes on; the Defense Manpower Data Center estimates that about 35,000 non-citizens currently serve in the U.S. active military, with an additional 12,000 serving in the Guard and Reserve, with 6,440 of those being Marines. Just think - you could be from just about anywhere and still earn the title of United States Marine.
Capt. Nicholas Dimitruk is one of those statistics, the result of being a native of Wimbledon, England.
“Growing up, I was raised an American and any time I had to do paperwork like renewing my passports, I had to go to the U.S. Embassy,” said Dimitruk, a forward air controller with Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “The very first thing you would see going through the embassy's entrance is the Marine security guard. They were spotless in appearance. That was my first impression of the United States.”
His mother was American and his father was a citizen of both the U.S. and England who worked in the embassy. Dimitruk entered the U.S. for the first time when he was 18 years old. Later, two of his older brothers followed suit and joined other branches of the U.S. armed forces.
He entered Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps while attending Duke University in 2001. Dimitruk later went to Officer Candidates School in 2004 and was commissioned in 2005. He was an AV-8B Harrier pilot for five years before transferring into a forward air controller billet in 2013 with 3/5. In short, he went from dropping bombs to coordinating air support from the ground.
In the beginning of his Marine career, Dimitruk assumed he was going to be a unique case because he was from England. That wasn't entirely true.
“I've met three British people who were pilots,” said Dimitruk. “I've met an Israeli. I've met a few people from African countries. In my experience, I see more diversity in the Marine Corps than other services.”
Some Marines of other nationalities had little time as United States citizens before becoming Marines, according to Dimitruk.
“When you get to this country, you feel this aura of mystique,” said Dimitruk. “When you're born and raised here, sometimes the feeling is dampened. But when you first get (here), you're excited. I really thought the hallmark of being in America was being in the Marine Corps since it represents America abroad. It inspires people like me to join the Marines. For some (foreign-born) Marines, they joined as soon as possible after getting to America.”
Consequently, there were times when Dimitruk's background befuddled his fellow comrades-in-arms. According to most people, he has an “accent”, which, on more than one occasion, has forced him to explain himself to others that he was a Marine.
“In Afghanistan, Marines on the ground were in a firefight and one was asking for U.S. aircraft,” said Dimitruk. “When I checked in with him (when flying in a Harrier), he was confused and thought they sent a British Harrier to assist. It took a few minutes to explain that I'm a United States Marine. The funny thing is, while he was with his troops during a contact situation, he was asking me how I became a U.S. Marine. 'Uh, do you want some ordnance or do you want to talk about my background?'”
Some of his peers at BLT 3/5 have known him since tactical air control school. They know him well enough to understand what he's saying when he starts to get animated or excited, according to Capt. Derick Staffenson, another forward air controller with 3/5, and a native of Newport, Oregon.
“When I first met the guy, the first thing I thought was 'Wow, this guy has a different story than most Marines,'” said Staffenson. “Knowing him now, when he gets really upset, he throws out a lot of British slang, which lightens the mood for us.”
To his superiors, past and present, Dimitruk's accent and background didn’t matter when taking into account his work ethic and contributions to the overall mission.
“Dimitruk’s understanding of aviation, its employment and integration with the BLT exemplifies the Marine Corps’ commitment to (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) operations,” said Capt. Jarrod Rothman, assistant operations officer with the BLT, and a native of San Diego. “Due to the amount of training and experience he has, he brings a high-level subject matter expertise to the ground combat element.”
There were times when Dimitruk wanted to stay out of the spotlight, but the moment he opened his mouth, he was highlighted as someone unique. It happened during OCS, it happened while he was a Harrier pilot and it happens even more now in BLT 3/5.
“It's a curse and a blessing,” said Dimitruk. “It's a curse because if something doesn't go right, and it's my fault, they'll know right away. It's also a blessing that I stick out like a sore thumb because my ultimate goal is to teach forward air controlling at San Diego. So when I called for a recommendation, they recognized me right away and I landed the job.”
Dimitruk and the Marines of BLT 3/5 are currently assigned to the 31st MEU as the ground combat element and are conducting pre-deployment preparations in support of the regularly scheduled Fall Patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.