Atascadero News Photo courtesy of Craig Culp • Craig Culp stands on top of Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima during a stop there with the Marine Corps.
At the age of 7, while in second grade, Atascadero resident Craig Culp began a lifetime of service by joining the Santa Margarita Cub Scouts.
Later, at 18, he earned the title of Eagle Scout. His Eagle Scout project was gridding and marking the Santa Margarita Community Cemetery. Though not always easy, Culp said that scouting was a big deal for him, and defined a lot of his life.
“[Scouting] instills a lot of leadership qualities,” he said.
And, he added, that a lot of what scouting did for him was teach him how to be a person. It’s not just about giving or taking orders, but about dealing with a team of peers to achieve a common goal.
And sometimes, it’s learning how to fail with grace. Like the time it took him three tries to get through first aid testing.
“I couldn’t get through that for the life of me,” he said with a laugh.
Culp’s family lived at the south end of Atascadero, so he went to Santa Margarita Elementary School through sixth grade. He progressed, as many do, to Atascadero Junior High School and then Atascadero High School, where he excelled at and really enjoyed drama.
“I always wanted to be an actor,” he said. “Maybe, who knows, I will some day.”
Culp graduated from high school in 2004 and almost immediately joined the Marines. He actually had to defer his shipping out date so he could finish procrastinating on his Eagle Scout project. He gridded and marked and cross-referenced the Santa Margarita Community Cemetery, making it much easier for historians and genealogists to gather and use the information the cemetery has to offer.
“That old cemetery goes back a long way,” he said.
But the work was satisfying. He said it wasn’t easy to get through the whole program, 14-year-old boys being what they are, but today, at the age of 26, Culp looks back on his time as an active Scout as a positive time.
“For a lot of people, it’s no longer cool and it gets difficult to stick with it,” Culp said self-referentially. “I’m glad I had the opportunity when I was a kid.”
Now, Culp’s enlistment in the Marines was only sort of a forgone conclusion. He said he always knew he would serve in one branch of the military or another. His grandfather served in the Marines, and when his grandmother gave Culp his grandfather’s eagle, globe and anchor pin, it all but solidified his choice.
“I talked to [recruiters from] every branch except the Air Force,” Culp said. “The guy never showed.”
Culp was on active duty from 2004 to 2008. His regular job was as radio operator. He spent a big chunk of time stationed in Okinawa, but since life ammo was not allowed on the island, he and his crew spent a lot of time in Thailand doing training.
An entertainingly frustration for Culp at that time had to do with his job as radio operator. He said that a lot of the gear he used was somewhat ancient. As such, a standard method of getting equipment to work involved dropping it on the ground first.
He was also a 50-caliber gunner for a time, but his gun was a 1942 vintage.
Culp also said that in “normal” times, he and his crew would wake up at 5:30 a.m. at least three days a week for physical training before the rest of the day began. Mostly, he said, that involved running with the purpose of, “getting the alcohol out of your system from the night before.”
Honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant in 2008, Culp went into the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Academy.
“It was a whole lot different than boot camp,” he said.
The hardest part of the Sheriff’s academy wasn’t getting pepper sprayed, as one might expect, though he did say that was pretty bad.
Part of military boot camp involves getting gassed, Culp said. And what with some clerical errors, Culp had to get gassed three weeks in a row. The gas, he said, wasn’t that big of a deal, and dissipated pretty quickly.
So when the time came to get pepper sprayed, he said he felt good about it. He’d done it before and it was no problem, after all.
“Some people get affected [by pepper spray] more than others,” Culp said with a grimace. “I’m one of them.”
He said the spray was a horrible
experience. Not only is the spray itself bad, but he got a really quality shot, right in the eyes.
Still, that wasn’t the worst part of the academy for him. The worst part was writing reports. He didn’t care to elaborate.
Though he got through the academy just fine, there weren’t a lot of job prospects at the time of his graduation. So he got a job as a civilian at Camp Roberts working with unmanned aerial vehicles. He said they’re mostly used for intelligence gathering. He also said it’s mostly fair to oversimplify his job as, “chases remote controlled airplanes.”
“My job is, I run ranges a bit and I coordinate airspace, altitudes and frequencies,” he said with a totally straight face. “It’s exciting when they catch on fire. … I love when there’s a downed UAV because you hop on an ATV and go find it.”
Anybody who’s run the Buzz Marathon knows what a beautiful bit of land Camp Roberts sits on. For a lot of his day, that’s Culp’s office.
In his spare time, Culp is an assistant scoutmaster in Santa Margarita. He’s also a member of the Santa Margarita Lion’s Club. He said he hasn’t been a Lion long enough to have any major projects under his belt yet, but said he really looks forward to the annual candy project.
He’s also been known to enjoy a locally crafted beer or two, has hiked Half Dome and loves a good movie.
For more information on Culp, find him at Molly Pitcher Brewing Company as soon as it opens. It’s walking-distance from his home, and supporting local business is something he said matters.