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U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Haideeth Porras, a San Diego native and an embarkation and logistics specialist with III Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group shares her experiences in the Marine Corps and her first time in South Korea on U.S. Army Garrison Casey, Gyeonggi, South Korea, Feb. 4, 2023. The Fallbrook Union High School graduate participated in Bushido Strike 23 on her second rotation in the Republic of Korea. III MSB is is conducting Bushido Strike 23, which comprises training events including a Marine Corps combat Readiness Evaluation in South Korea to validate its mission essential tasks of providing combat service support, security and administrative services to III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Manuel Serrano

Still Breathing: III MSB Marine Returns to South Korea, Shares Lessons Learned

16 Feb 2023 | Cpl. Cesar Alarcon The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

The most important thing Marines learn in recruit training is to adapt and overcome. For Lance Cpl. Haideeth Porras, this is a lesson she would face first-hand sooner than expected.

Porras is a logistics and embarkation specialist with III Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion. The Fallbrook Union High School graduate, Fallbrook, CA, participated in Bushido Strike 23, a training event conducted in South Korea to evaluate III MSB’s combat readiness. This was not Porras’ first time in the Republic of Korea.

“The first time I was in South Korea was from July to September to support the Combined Forces Command, Combined Command Post Training,” said Porras. “As an embarkation specialist, I focus on deployment and redeployment. I get things moving.”

Logistics and embarkation specialists facilitate the transport of mission-essential resources, including ammunition, equipment, food, fuel and personnel. Embarkation specialists travel often, which is one aspect that attracted her to enlist in the Marine Corps in October 2020.

Porras decided to enlist early on in her life. As a kid growing up in sunny San Diego, California, she was captivated by the Marine Corps’ culture of discipline and professionalism. She saw Marines walking in their uniforms. She pictured herself wearing the iconic Marines’ uniform.

As a junior in high school, she completed the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. She told her parents about her desire to serve in the military. Her father supported her decision, but her mother had concerns. She eventually convinced her parents for written permission to join at the age of 17 and soon, she was on her way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

“I always knew I wanted to join the military, then branch off and maybe become a police officer,” said Porras. “I kind of forced my parents into signing. I told them if they didn’t sign, they would only be delaying the process for a year. I left for boot camp two or three months after I graduated high school.”

Instead of opting to be stationed in California, Porras took the opportunity to travel. She decided to request orders for overseas service in Okinawa, Japan. South Korea was her first time traveling out of Japan. South Korea would be the first country other than Japan she would set foot in, except it was all business. This was also her first test as an embarkation specialist.

“Being alone for the first time with so many pieces of gear made me learn how to adapt to certain situations,” said Porras. “It was stressful – it was very stressful. But I had a good team, and they were willing to help.”

After a successful exercise, she was set to leave on September 29. But the date for her return kept getting pushed back. Unexpected inclement weather played a big part in the delayed travel and suddenly made her job more difficult than she anticipated.

In early September 2022, Typhoon Hinnamnor landed on the eastern part of South Korea. It flooded the city of Pohang, where Camp Mujuk is located. Eleven people were killed when the storm made landfall, seven of whom were in Pohang, according to BBC News. As efforts were made to clear the rubble in the city, 50 Marines and Sailors from Camp Mujuk, the Marine Corps’ only South Korean installation, joined together with nearly 200 Republic of Korea Marines to help with the crisis, according to Stars and Stripes news.

“My mission was on Mujuk, but several Marines went out into the city to help the locals with recovery and cleaning,” said Porras. “It rained so much the river flooded. People lived by that river; their houses were destroyed.”

The storm affected Porras’ plans for her departure by ship. The waters were too rough, so a date for her departure could not be set.

“The date kept getting pushed back,” said Porras. “Eventually, the ship just went into maintenance. So, we had to fly back on military aircraft. That changed everything because the documentation necessary for the ship is completely different from aircraft.”

Even with major setbacks, Porras was determined to accomplish her mission successfully, something her team appreciated.

“She understood her role was critical,” said 1st Lt. Angela Jones, an assistant logistics officer with III MSB who was with Porras during CCPT.

“Once we were told that was the course of action, she immediately determined all the excess gear, documents, and inspections needed. Having her there was super essential for the mission.”  1st Lt. Angela Jones, assistant logistics officer with III MSB

The delay would favor Porras as she was able to do some sightseeing around the country. She took advantage of the Single Marine Program tours on Camp Mujuk that offered trips to Busan, Daegu and Seoul. This was an opportunity Porras couldn’t pass up.

After travelling for a month around South Korea, she landed in the Itaewon district of Seoul on Halloween night. It was a night that Porras remembers uneasily–almost with a feeling of disbelief.

“We went out that night because we heard it was the biggest place for Halloween [in South Korea],” said Porras. “You had to be there; it was absolutely crowded. It was like a mosh pit. I think we left 30 minutes before the crush went down.”

Itaewon district was packed with partygoers. In the overwhelming surge, if one person fell, several hundred would topple over with them. And that’s what happened. In a few short moments, the massive crowd became a crush.

The incident led to 159 people tragically losing their lives. The Washington Post reported the common cause of death was compression asphyxia, when a victim is so congested their lungs are unable to expand. They suffocated that night. To Porras, the surreal feeling of almost becoming a part of the crush was not lost on her.

“The craziest part was we passed right by the alley where it happened,” said Porras. “But we didn’t think it was to the extremes of hundreds dying. The day after, we’re driving past and just seeing body bags in the street. It was a sad time.”

Porras would soon return to Okinawa a more experienced embarkation specialist. Porras knows she learned and grew significantly from her experiences, but there’s always more room for growth. From being the middle child to becoming her own woman the first time away from home, she had to overcome adversity in her life.

“When I first arrived [in Okinawa], I was 18,” said Porras. “When I left for boot camp, it was my first time being away from home. It was a new country and completely different culture from what I had become accustomed to. It was rough at first, but I quickly adjusted to my life and my job there. I’m still growing and learning every day.”

Porras returned to the Republic of Korea merely two months after leaving. This trip will provide her with more than added experience; she will get an opportunity to partake in the training with the rest of the MSB Marines. The last time Porras trained with a rifle in her hand was Marine Combat Training, more than two years ago.

“I think it’s cool to go back to that,” said Porras. “The training is essential and not something a lot of Marines get to do after MCT. I believe it is something to take advantage of and retain, because you never know when something can happen.

With the prospect of training on the horizon, Porras paused to reflect on her journey and gain a better understanding of how she copes with tough situations. For her, the key is simple: keep breathing.

“I always say, things happen, but I’m still breathing, so I’ll be fine,” said Porras. “If I’m having a rough time, or I’m dealing with a difficult situation, I’m not going to put myself in a corner. If I’m still breathing, then I’ll be fine.”