Pasco sheriff's deputy, teacher mentor young Marine
NEW PORT RICHEY -
Sgt. David Leon pulled out his personal cellphone Wednesday morning and placed it on a table inside the Pasco County Sheriff's Office administration building.
He revealed a text message he received the evening of March 21.
“Sgt. once again, thank you so much for everything,” the message read. “God bless you and your family. You guys are super special to me. I thank God for putting you both in my way… Semper Fidelis.”
Leon, a patrol supervisor with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, received that text from Marvin Galo, a former Sunlake High School student, now in Marine Corp infantry training.
At the end of 2011, Galo was in need of a mentor for his senior project on law enforcement. Galo, now 19, grew fond of his English teacher, Karen Leon. She was his senior sponsor and he asked if her husband, Sgt. Leon, would also work with him.
On Nov. 21, 2011, Galo went on his first ride-along with Leon.
“He did the ride-a-long and from there, the relationship just blossomed,” Karen Leon said.
In March 2012, Galo made his senior project presentation. He conducted a PowerPoint and Leon, in full uniform, also presented part of the project.
Galo walked away with an A.
Karen Leon knew Galo could do well on the project. As a junior, he didn't fully apply himself, but as he matured and entered his senior year, things began to improve, she said.
“I knew he was going to make it, I just didn't know if he had that much faith within himself,” Karen Leon said. “He just needed people to believe in him. But I knew (he would be successful) his senior year. Junior year, if you would have asked me, I was not sure.”
David Leon, although not specific on what held Galo back, said he just needed “refining,” something the Leons' mentorship provided.
“I told him, you are your only limit,” Karen Leon, in her 10th year as a teacher, said. “That would kind of put him back and refocus.”
She said his interest in being a public servant surfaced after they read the book “Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz” at the end of his junior year. It's an autobiographical tale of a woman from a broken home who was involved in a gang, dropped out of high school, and faced motherhood at an early age then eventually became a police officer.
“I think that was an eye-opener for him,” Karen Leon said.
After high school graduation in May 2012, Galo worked for a brief time at Target until he passed his military entrance test. He entered Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., on Dec. 17, 2012 and graduated March 15.
During that time, Galo regularly wrote the Leons.
“As we received a letter from him, we wrote back that same night to stay in touch and give him encouragement,” David Leon said.
The first letter written by David Leon made it clear, Galo was now part of the Leon family.
“I have a 12-year-old daughter and the first letter I wrote back to him, my daughter read it and she was like, 'Wow, Bapi, you spoke to Marvin like he was your son,'” Leon recalled. “I did kind of take him under my wing and made sure he stayed on the right path, the straight arrow path, and didn't jeopardize his goal of wanting to be a Marine.”
The Leons drove to South Carolina for the boot camp graduation. The trip to see Galo graduate was also a mission of closure for David Leon, a retired 15-year New York City police officer. He joined the Pasco sheriff's office in 2004.
He was a first responder on Sept. 11, 2001, when two jets hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists flew into the World Trade Center towers.
Before that visit, he said all he remembered from that day was death, mounds of rubble and the smell of airline fuel. After the trip to the 9/11 Memorial, things have changed.
“Thinking of what happened there and just seeing the beauty that is now there, it was amazing,” Leon said.
The Leons are now awaiting the end of Galo's monthlong infantry training at Camp LeJeune, S.C. They haven't heard from him since training began and are ready to welcome him back.
“I wish people in general would understand that sometimes people are put in our lives for a reason,” Karen Leon said. “We need to believe in our children, in our students, in our families because when everyone works together, it is just amazing the things that can be accomplished.”