The Story of Us: Larry Eichel
Tampa, Feb. 6, 2015 - Challenge and pride are words synonymous with veterans, and Corporal Larry Eichel
is no stranger to those values. He, like many of his fellow veterans, sought out the
military as a means to test his limits and set himself apart from others. Now, after
separating from the military, Larry is using his military skills to continue down
a new life path: a Marine Biology student looking to answer the most pivotal questions
of human life.
Larry developed a desire to join the military at a young age after listening to inspiring war stories from his grandfather, a Vietnam Army infantry veteran, and his cousin, a Marine. Throughout high school, he involved himself in junior military organizations and even won an Army scholarship. However, he decided to turn it down to enlist in the Marine Corps. "I wanted a change of life style, to just jump right in to the military, so I enlisted at 17."
Larry shipped out for the first of two deployments to Afghanistan after only 2 weeks in the fleet. He earned numerous awards from his service time, notably a Purple Heart Medal after surviving a massive improvised explosive device (IED) explosion and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, which he describes as his most valued award.
"The part that really got me with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal was it encompassed my whole career, not just the event that earned me the Purple Heart. It even included actions from the IED explosion that I didn't even realize I did at the time." After Larry's vehicle struck an estimated 80-120lb IED, which blew up almost directly underneath his side of the vehicle, Larry was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured hip. "I remember a huge flash, almost like a short flame wrapped the vehicle. Then, I woke up to screaming and the whole vehicle was filled with dust. I went to open my door and the door fell off of the truck. But I still got out and was able to find the battery source for the IED that actually struck my vehicle. I was also able to find two secondary IEDs and was able to sweep them while the others were still in the vehicle."
The medal also encompassed other life-saving actions from his deployments as well as many achievements across his whole career. Larry's service highlights also include serving in three campaigns and working his way up from one of the lowest positions to assistant section leader with 16 marines under his charge.
Trading Camis for Campus
After serving four years, Larry decided it was time to pursue higher education and
began looking for colleges with degrees in Marine Biology. "I love the water and everything
about the water. I also have a passion for preserving living organisms. The main thing
is that our earth is encompassed by 70% water, 97% of that water being salt, and we
know less than 3% of the taxonomic organisms that are actually out there. The ocean
is a mystery."
Although he grew up in the greater Tampa Bay area and USF was his first choice, Larry still researched several other universities before deciding on USF. "I ultimately chose USF because the academic program seemed more rigorous. I looked at Florida Institute of Technology, which offers a bachelors in Oceanography, but I started comparing the catalog pages side by side and USF had a stricter course set. I figured having those courses would better prepare me for graduate school or a job."
Larry, now a busy working student who still manages to keep a GPA of 3.6, attributes his academic success to his military experience. "I have the time management skills and discipline to sit down and study for 6 hours straight and the willingness to just say that I won't quit. There's no academic challenge that would put me in a harder life situation than what I have already been exposed to."
He's also found ways to continue serving the veteran community in other capacities. At USF's Office of Veteran Services (OVS), he works to help fellow veterans understand and receive their VA benefits. On working at OVS, Larry says "I love simplifying the system so that veterans can fully utilize the benefits that are offered to the Veteran community." He also serves as secretary for the Society of American Military Engineers USF Student Chapter, is a member of the Oceanography Society, and a member of several different military affiliated organizations.
Answering the Big Questions of Life
Ultimately, Larry wants to use the experiences and abilities he gained through the
military to attain a degree and eventually help diminish reliance on fossil fuels
as well as track the potential evolutionary origins of human life. An ideal opportunity
would be employment with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration working
as a biological oceanographer.
"I want to be a biological oceanographer, which studies what causes biological interactions. I'd like to exclusively study hydrothermal vents because they're potentially the origin of life based on evolutionary history. Also, they are a renewable source and there's vast amount of energy there."
After all Larry has done for the country and community already, it is easy to see he is not done yet. The qualities and determination he demonstrates are prime examples of the attributes student Veterans bring to USF and our country. Although each Veterans' story is different, a commonality always appears, their service to the community is never over.
Thanks to the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, veterans everywhere are finding success in the classroom and beyond. At the University of South Florida, we would like to share with you the successes of our veterans and the impact they are making here at school and also in their communities. This series will highlight exceptional individuals who not only served our country in a time of need, but are using their unique tools to succeed after military service.
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