Former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps John Estrada is returning to the country of his birth as the U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
"I credit all my success to my time in the Marine Corps — any success, to include this appointment and confirmation to be ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago," said Estrada, who served as the Marine Corps' top enlisted leader from 2003 to 2007. "I've had some really great leaders and mentors in the Marine Corps."
The Senate confirmed Estrada for the ambassadorship on Feb. 12. He plans to leave soon for Trinidad and Tobago, where his family lived until he was 14 years old. Growing up, Estrada would sell recycling so that he could watch U.S. war movies. One of his favorites was "Sands of Iwo Jima" with John Wayne.
"What always stood out in the American war moves I used to look at was the Marines," Estrada said. "The Marines were just the best. They got the job done. I loved the discipline, that fighting spirit. That stuck in my head as I emigrated to the U.S."
While in high school, Estrada had a job cleaning government buildings in Washington, D.C. For months, he would walk past the Marine Corps recruiting office, but he didn't dare go inside.
"I wanted to be a Marine, but I was scared," he said. "I didn't know if I had what it took. The Marine recruiter had been watching me for many months. Then one day he stepped outside while I was standing outside looking in and he said, 'Come on in young man.' It took off from there."
Former Sergeant of the Marine Corps John Estrada addresses Marines and sailors with Combat Logistics Battalion 2. Estrada will be the new U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Juan Vara/Marine Corps
While his upbringing in the U.S. led to him becoming the man he is today, Estrada's early years in Trinidad and Tobago give him an understanding of its culture and people, he said.
"They are very excited knowing that the U.S. ambassador was born in their country," Estrada said. "I think they have high hopes — even though we have a great, great relationship with Trinidad and Tobago — I think they are expecting that relationship to improve some."
Estrada is an inspiration to all Marines, said former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlton Kent, who became the Marine Corps' senior enlisted leader when Estrada retired.
Kent said he has known Estrada for years. In fact, they were both drill instructors at Marine Recruit Depot San Diego in the 1980s.
"Marines can do whatever they want to because the eagle, globe and anchor is branded in their heart — and when it's branded in their heart, that's all you need," Kent said.