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Marine Mike Cardenas is shown at left in Iraq in this courtesy photo.

Change of scene for Texas Marines

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news Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

GLADSTONE -- They have been across the world with the Marines, but neither had ever stepped foot in North Dakota -- that is until last week.

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Marines Mike Cardenas, 28, and Jordan Terry, 25, both of Texas and students at Lone Star College, had never met before running into each other at a bar in Houston recently.

Now the two Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans are among the thousands to make up the western North Dakota melting pot more and more frequently referred to as "The Patch."

Terry had heard of the oil boom and was contemplating a life change when he met Cardenas at a bar.

The men began talking about their experiences in war and the Marines when Terry said, "I'm moving to North Dakota."

Cardenas' response: "I want to go, too."

The next day they withdrew cash from their accounts, purchased a 30-foot pull-behind trailer, and the following day they hit the road. Destination: North Dakota.

"We came out here with nothing," said Terry, a sergeant who served in Iraq in 2008-09. "Basically, we packed our clothes and left."

It's pretty crazy, but you've got to do what you've got to do, they said.

Cardenas, a corporal who served in Iraq in 2006-07, was preparing to head overseas Friday with a private security contractor, but turned down that opportunity to "come out here." Like Terry, he also quit school.

"I'm ready to work and ready for the change of scenery," Cardenas said.

They drove the 1,800 miles with neither sleeping. The bond they share as Marines and men who have seen the successes and common hardships of war gave them plenty to talk about, they said.

"We came out here on a dream," Terry said.

"We are Marines and Marines get along," Cardenas added.

They pulled into Gladstone and now their "home" is parked next to nearly a dozen others in the city park at the entrance of town.

The soldiers can't help but think of comrades serving overseas, especially during the holidays.

"They are still fighting for our freedom," Terry said.

As of Wednesday afternoon the Houston transplants did not know where, or if, they would be sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal today. However, missing the holiday meal is not new.

"We've spent many Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters and birthdays away," Terry said, adding last year was the first Thanksgiving he spent with family in four years because of military duties. Last year was also the first in four years for Cardenas.

Tuesday they were both offered jobs and if all goes as planned, will start on a workover rig next week.

When asked what Cardenas misses most about Texas now that he's in North Dakota, he said with a laugh, "My Corvette." However, with a more serious look said, "My family."

Terry agrees (minus the Corvette).

Though service in the Marines meant much time away from loved ones, they said joining is among the best decisions in their lives.

"It made me more responsible, opened my eyes to the world and gave me a new perspective," Terry said.

"A different point of view," Cardenas finished.

And without the Marine bond, they would not have spoken at that bar, never would have met and wouldn't be in North Dakota.

Though the trailer is cramped and they've been nearly inseparable for more than a week, there are no squabbles and no regrets.

"Marines stick by each others' sides," Cardenas said.

Someone else who has stuck by their sides is Jackie Knowlen, Job Service North Dakota's customer service specialist in the Dickinson office, who was but a stranger a week ago.

She helped make their move possible and has done much more than they could have asked for. People need to know how much credit she deserves, they say.

"I probably go above and beyond for them only because of what they've done for our country," she said of working with military members.

Leslie Ross, Stark County Veterans Service Office officer, has also worked with a number of veterans heading to the area for work.

"Most of them move up here because they saw a dream," she said, referencing the extensive media coverage of oilfield opportunities.

Less than 30 percent of veterans and beneficiaries seek available benefits, she said, adding it makes it difficult to put a number on how many move here for oil work. Most have come from out of state and most from southern states, she said.

"It's safe to say just health care transfers alone, I usually see two to three a week and that's been steady for six months," Ross said.

Cardenas and Terry look forward to starting their new jobs and hope their cramped quarters at the Gladstone park is only a temporary home.

"We came here to do something and we've got to do it," Terry said.

Cardenas added, "We'll have our obstacles, but we'll overcome them."

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