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Serving amid a pandemic

Marine describes deployment during outbreak


When Valley Streamer Daniel Toy began U.S. Marine Corps basic training in July 2018, shortly after his graduation from Central High School, he never anticipated his first deployment would go as it has.

Toy, now 20 and a lance corporal combat engineer, has spent the past three months on lockdown at the Morón Air Force Base in Spain as the coronavirus has wreaked havoc around the world. He had expected to be in Spain only six months while training, but has been there nine months so far. He was supposed to return to his family right around the time the pandemic struck.

“It’s hard being away from family in general,” he said, “but the pandemic has made it harder, because it’s taking even more time to get home.”

On a typical day at Morón, Toy is up at 6:30 a.m., and although his training regimen varies, it usually follows the same format, with morning classroom lessons and afternoon exercises to reinforce the lessons. After 4 p.m., he said, is downtime.

In his role as an engineer, Toy’s basic duties include fostering the movement of friendly troops and inhibiting the movement of enemy troops. He specializes in building bunkers and firing positions for forward operating bases, as well as constructing obstacles to protect them. Additionally, he is trained to find and mark improvised explosive devices and perform basic infantry tasks, such patrolling an area. He must also support front-line infantry. 

Toy said the pandemic, and the accompanying social-distancing requirements, has changed what it looks like to be a soldier.

“Usually soldiers aren’t separated as much. We are used to being in close proximity with one another, but now since the pandemic started, we are following the social-distancing rules and wearing masks,” he said. “The pandemic has made training and serving slightly more nerve-wracking, mostly because of the precautions everyone has to take.” 

“Fortunately, the base I’m on hasn’t had any coronavirus cases,” he said, “and we’ve been following the social-distancing rules, so the likelihood of people becoming infected by the virus is very low.”

When Toy is off duty, he said he often texts or Facetimes with family members.

His sister, Rebecca, 17, a Central senior, has also signed up for a four-year enlistment with the Marines. “It was a decision within myself to join the military, and my brother also inspired me to join,” she said. “I’m disappointed because prom and graduation are important for every high schooler’s journey, but right now my head is more focused on going to boot camp and being a good soldier.” 

Their parents said they are proud, but like any mother and father, worry about their children’s safety.

“My feelings about Daniel serving our country in the military during a pandemic are really no different than they are when there are still military actions going on in other places in the world,” their father, Robert, said. “I’m concerned and worried for him and all of our military, and want them all to be safe and return home as soon as they can.” 

“I’m worried no matter what,” their mother, Josephine, said. “It’s nerve-racking just not having Daniel here. I would love to have him home where I can keep him safe . . . And I’m worried for Becca leaving. As of now, it doesn’t seem like the pandemic will all be over by the time she will leave.”

While Rebecca may be leaving, Daniel, much to his relief, is finally scheduled to come home, although due to operational security, the date cannot be revealed.

“The hardest part about serving during the pandemic was not knowing when we were going to go home,” he said. “Emotionally, it’s hard not seeing your friends and family for so long. My hope for the future regarding the coronavirus is that it goes away quickly so that everyone can return to their normal lives.”