At the age of 22, Sgt. Dennis Knesz (Ret.) made the decision to honor his country by enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. Five years and two deployments later, he was honorably discharged, and he's now planning on applying the lessons he's learned in the civilian sector.
Knesz served as an airframe mechanic (MOS 6154) with HMLA-469, based out of Camp Pendleton, CA. He specialized in working on the AH-1W SuperCobra Attack Helicopter, as well as the infamous UH-1 Huey Utility Helicopter.
Though stationed 3,000 miles away in beautiful southern California, Knesz still missed the tastes of home.
"I loved the weather at Camp Pendleton, especially coming from Pennsylvania, but I really missed the food," said Knesz. "Cheese steaks and pierogies; they don't have that stuff out there."
In hindsight, the lack of homely comforts would only serve to prepare him for the future, which included two separate deployments to Iraq.
Serving under the command of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, also known as the "Gunfighters," Knesz was deployed to Al Asad Air Base, and later, Camp Al Taqaddum (TQ) during the summer of 2007.
Though his first deployment was reasonably uneventful, Knesz recalled seeing his first glimpse of war.
"We were on the airfield and I saw a helicopter returning to base. As it landed, I saw bulletholes all over, and that's when it kind of hit me," said Knesz.
After seven months, his unit returned home to Camp Pendleton, though his time stateside was short lived, as the unit re-deployed in the fall of 2008.
Fortunately, Knesz made it through both deployments unscathed, never having to fire his weapon. He returned home in the Spring of 2009, and finished out his enlistment in California until he was honorably discharged on November 1, 2010.
Looking back, Knesz only has fond memories of his time in the Marine Corps.
"I learned a sense of direction, and how to be a leader instead of a follower," said Knesz. "I really enjoyed the brotherhood the most. Everyone looks out for one another, and that's not something you find anywhere else."
Now, Knesz is 27, and living in Lansdale. He's currently working two
jobs: one at in Montgomeryville, and a second bartending two nights a week at .
When he can find some free time, he said he likes to spend it riding his 2008 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail, or hitting the gym for a work out. Additionally, he keeps in contact with many friends from his old unit, some of which are currently deployed in Afghanistan.
Armed with plenty of life lessons under his belt, Knesz is now ready to start a second career, though his new choice may be in stark contrast to his prior service.
"I've started planning for college, and I'm really interested in the medical field," said Knesz.
Specifically, Knesz said he would ultimately like to go to medical school to become a pediatrician.
"I'd love to work with children. That's my goal," he said.
With the discipline of a Marine, the intelligence of an airframe mechanic, and funding by the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, Knesz looks to continue his life of service in the civilian sector, ideally swapping out his trusty M-4 for a stethoscope.
Asked if he had any advice for anyone looking into serving in the U.S.M.C., Knesz had this to say:
"There's a lot of great opportunities in the Marine Corps, and the military in general. I would highly recommend any branch. You pick up a good work ethic, and you learn so much from the training. Both carry over into the real world."
We at the Lansdale Patch are committed to recognizing the efforts and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. If you know of a serviceman or woman who is currently deployed, or has recently returned home, contact Keith Heffintrayer at firstname.lastname@example.org, for a potential article on their service .