CAMP PENDLETON — Thousands of civilians answer the call to serve their country every year. A love for music was how one Leatherneck with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit originally intended to answer his.
Lance Cpl. Richard B. Orellana started playing the drums at the age of five after receiving his first drum set. Through the years he progressed to learning more about the different types of percussion instruments. At the age of 13 he taught himself the guitar, and at 19 picked up the trombone.
“I’m never done learning something,” he said. “There’s always something I can learn. I try to keep pushing myself creatively,” added the artist who tries to be the master of his craft when it comes to his artistic endeavors.
His devotion to music throughout his younger years paid off when he auditioned for and was accepted into the Los Angeles Unified School District All City Honor Marching Band as a junior in high school. That was no easy feat. To land his spot in the band, Orellana competed against other students throughout the entire county of Los Angeles.
“Richard was the best drummer to ever come through Chatsworth High School, which is why I recommended him for the all city band,” said Larry O. Williams, band director, Chatsworth High School. “I remember him as a freshman, he was so talented, but controlling his energy was the real challenge.”
Within a year of his time on the all-city band, he was selected for right-guide, a highly sought after position that has the most visibility when it comes to being on camera. A year after that, he became the center-snare, which is the section leader of the snare line.
Orellana’s talent doesn’t end with being an exceptional musician. He is also a gifted artist.
“I always try to branch myself out,” he said. “I never wanted to be able to be labeled as one specific kind of person.”
Orellana first discovered that he could draw at a young age. His high school art teacher, Ms. Kasahara, saw his sketches and challenged him to take Advanced Placement level artistic courses.
Just 16 years old at the time, he believes that to be the point in his life when he branched out the most artistically.
During his junior year in high school, Orellana represented his school all over the county again, this time in an art competition.
“It was an art competition I’ll never forget,” said the artist reminiscing about the influence his art teacher had on him.
Orellana brought his mother to the show for moral support, and when he saw his artwork on the wall, he noticed a gold sticker next to it. During the presentation of awards, the host of the competition announced that art with that marking denoted the winners, and the artists were recipients of a scholarship to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.
Although he was still in high school, he began taking classes in Pasadena and was surprised at how comfortable he felt with a pen and sketchpad in his hands.
“I took courses in design and illustration – I had found my nitch,” said the passionate young artist.
However, after a trimester at the school, the funds on his scholarship ran out. His family could not afford art classes or music lessons, so he could no longer continue with the classes.
“I was crushed, devastated, you name it,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that my dreams couldn’t be fulfilled because of my economic background.”
After a run of bad luck, Orellana found himself making bad decisions and heading toward trouble.
“I needed to get away from that trouble back home and get set on a straight and narrow path,” he said, speaking of a time when he needed discipline in his life.
With his love for music still present and his passion for art put on pause, Orellana decided he would join the Marine Corps and audition for the Marine band.
“Joining the Marine Corps was the best thing for him in my opinion,” said Williams.
“He needed that discipline, and just from keeping in touch with him I can see that he got that from the Marines.”
Before his final audition to become a part of the band, Orellana injured his finger skateboarding and was unable to complete the audition. He needed to leave for recruit training and was forced to reclassify to a new military occupational specialty of military administration.
“Orellana is very good at what he does,” said Cpl. Michael A. Travis, a Marine air ground task force planner with the 15th MEU and Orellana’s non-commissioned officer. “Sometimes he lets his energy get the best of him, but I make sure he doesn’t run too wild,” the Talladega, Ala. native added.
He is now considering a lateral move into a different occupational field such as combat illustrator that would allow him to use his talents every day.
“He needs a specialty where he can be more free,” said Travis, referring to Orellana’s creativity. “Being creative is his thing. Since being at the unit, he has made creative cover pages, unit symbols and designed different things for our section.”
After he completes his time in the Corps, Orellana is interested in helping underprivileged kids who have similar life experiences as he does, specifically those with artistic or musical interests.
Even though he’s not making music with a Marine band, Orellana is still making music.
He has a drum set in his room, and he sometimes plays at local venues.
“If there’s one thing I’ll always take from my time in the Marine Corps it’s to look out for others. I want to be that person who can help, not only artistically but also morally, to make sure [these kids] have that role model who will keep them out of trouble.”