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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Playing battles of life through chess

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (July 21, 2006) -- He moves his pawns strategically through the battlefield, deciphering the coordinates and guessing his opponent's next move. He tries to out-wit his enemy and utilize tactics and strategy to win a tiring battle.

To Cpl. Justin Colon, an administrative clerk at the headquarters administration office for Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, chess is more than a board game. The game that founded his parent's love has become an inspiration that he applies to every aspect of life.

Colon first learned to play chess at 10 years old, when his father taught him on an old black and white marble board.

"I thought my boys needed to know how to play chess," said Peter J. Colon, Justin's father. "It's all about thinking and planning and learning to look into the future."

Justin had a natural talent for the game of strategy and discipline. His parents had been brought together by the game and made certain that their children also had an opportunity to learn and respect the game.

"By the time he was 12, I wouldn't play him anymore," Colon said. "I couldn't play him anymore, it was fruitless, it would kill my ego. He's good."

Justin continued to play chess in high school as captain of the Kendall Central Junior/Senior High School chess team in New York. Justin claims he still lacked personal discipline in his life when it came to being a teenager but chess was a sport he wouldn’t give up for the sake of "coolness." During high school, Justin found time between chasing girls and playing football and basketball to take home the local chess championship three years running.

Every time he walked past a couple playing chess, he would challenge the winner, defining himself as an expert-player even further. He had to beat anyone he could.

When he joined the Marine Corps three and a half years ago, Justin said he did it for nothing more than the title of Marine. He wanted to continue to be known as the best.

At Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, N.C., Justin and fellow Marines occupied their time making a chess set out of rocks.

Using paper and cardboard to label each piece, Justin continued to play his beloved game in the most unexpected places.

"It's the significance of life in a game," Justin explained. "Everything that applies to everyday living is put in that one game. The possibilities are endless."

Recently, Justin began to play chess more frequently as he prepared his application for the All-Marine Chess Team. His family was excited about his new opportunity, but back at home a tragedy would pull him away from his goal and shine a brighter light on the important things in his life.

As his application and selection date for the team neared, Justin's mother became increasingly ill and was quickly hospitalized. Though she was very sick, Justin's mother did not want her son to be told of her hospitalization until he had already been selected to the All-Marine team. She worried most about his focus on the game and didn't want her poor health to hurt his ability to play well, according to his father.

The few tournaments he played to prepare for the try-outs, Justin said he had spent distracted by worry for his mother. The Friday his application was due, Justin was home in Rochester, N.Y., with his mother during her final days.

Justin called to inform his coaches that his resume would be late and though they assured him an opportunity at try-outs, the team was already decided when he returned from home.

Justin now readies himself for the Armed Forces Open, a chess tournament dedicated to any prior, reserve or active-duty service member. When he is done with that, Justin isn't sure what he is going to do but one thing is certain: his future opportunities are endless.

By Lance Cpl. Kaitlyn M. Scarboro, MCAS Miramar

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