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Marines that stay: Why Yuma is now home
Ask teachers, business owners and law enforcement officers how they landed in Yuma and expect a common refrain: "I came here in the Corps."
A lot of U.S. Marines may complain about the heat when they get assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. But many of those men and women end up staying in Yuma or coming back years later, choosing to make their duty station their long-term home.
Maj. Leon Wilmot with the Yuma County Sheriff's Office said he thinks Yuma's down-home charm and friendliness win over Marines looking for a place to settle down.
"I think there is a real sense of belonging in this community," said Wilmot, a former Marine once stationed at MCAS Yuma. "You feel welcome here, like you are connected to the community."
He said it's no surprise that Marines feel welcome in Yuma. According to the law enforcement leader, not all military towns put out the red carpet for its citizens in uniform, but Yuma certainly welcomes its military men and women with open arms.
"I've heard stories of places where they don't like Marines. This community, however, has always enjoyed the military bases here and welcome the military," Wilmot said. "When you have a community that supports you the way it does here, you can't help but have a feeling of belonging."
Many Marines have said over the years that Yuma is the best-kept secret in the Marine Corps.
Wilmot added that while Marines luck out by getting a great town, Yuma benefits greatly by receiving citizens who are ambitious and well-trained.
"I think all of this has really shaped Yuma quite a bit," Wilmot said. "The Marine Corps gives us such great discipline, leadership, training and courage."
The Yuma County Sheriff's Office stands as a great example of Marines staying in Yuma. The majority of the organization's command staff came to Yuma via the Marine Corps, including Sheriff Ralph Ogden.
Other examples of high-profile former Marines include Ross Hieb, serving on the Yuma City Council, and Greg Ferguson, serving on the Yuma County Board of Supervisors. Other strong examples of former Marines can be found in local schools, such as teacher John McBride, who has received numerous local and national honors.
Yuma County official Kevin Tunell said he's a good example of a Marine who originally had a hard time liking Yuma, but who now can't imagine himself living anywhere else. After the Marine Corps, Tunell became a well-known face in Yuma's living rooms as an on-air personality with KYMA-TV. He also serves his community as director of Public and Legislative Affairs for Yuma County.
"I hated Yuma when I got here," Tunell said. "I was driving across the country in a rented truck with all my worldly belongings and it was 100-plus degrees in July."
But then the East Cost native got to know the people of Yuma County.
"I think people here care. I don't want to say that people in large towns don't care, but I think this community or rural communities care a bit more," Tunell said.
Even the desert - which he said at first seemed like an alien landscape when Tunell was a newly arrived Marine - has won him over.
"That thing that also started reeling me was the unseen beauty of the environment here," he said. "But once you are here long enough you really can see how Yuma is truly a diamond in the rough."
Darin Fenger can be reached at
email@example.com or 539-6860.