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CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – The drive to become a Marine and gain acceptance into the tight-knit family is what inspired Staff Sgt. Monica Paz to enlist in July 2000.
A veteran of two previous combat deployments to Iraq, Paz is currently serving as the accounting division chief and squadron support division chief for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
“I originally wanted to go to college, but I really wasn’t set on what I wanted to study and didn’t want to waste my parents’ money,” said Paz, from Miami. “The Marine Corps was the hardest. It seemed like it was the most challenging branch of the military. I didn’t want to regret something that I didn’t do, and my mother always encouraged me to go ahead and accomplish something no matter how hard it was.”
When Paz left for recruit training, she had no idea what her job would be in the Marine Corps.
“My main focus was, ‘I’m going to be a Marine.’ I didn’t care what job they gave me,” Paz said.
Although Paz came in with an open contract, she has worked to become a proficient leader.
“As a Marine, she’s top notch,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Robert Mena, aviation supply chief with MALS-16, 3rd MAW (Fwd). “She’s well rounded and embodies the whole Marine concept. She definitely has a very positive staff noncommissioned officer future ahead of her. She’s a mentor to a lot of Marines. She’s fantastic at her job, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. She’s motivated and is constantly seeking improvement and trying to make processes better.”
During her 12 years in the Marine Corps, Paz’s most difficult tour was her time as a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Paz reported to the drill field in July 2007. Paz noted both the mental and physical challenges associated with the job.
“It was the toughest thing I have ever done,” Paz said. “In my mind, it’s harder than deploying. Physically it hurt. It was one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve ever had to make both to my time and my body, and mentally, it was hard.”
Paz credits former drill instructors for her interest in that job.
“My drill instructors are what motivated me to follow in their footsteps,” she said. “I saw them, and they were extremely tough. They didn’t allow us to be mediocre, and they pushed us to the limit. I know that they changed my life.”
Since leaving the drill field, Paz has run into several of her former recruits both in garrison and while deployed to Afghanistan.
“It’s really good when you get to see former recruits be successful,” Paz said. “Even if they don’t re-enlist and decide to get out, they’re on the right path to having successful futures. They’ve gained a lot of knowledge being in the Marine Corps.”
Sgt. Brenna Aspera, a radio chief with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd MAW (Fwd), is a former recruit of Paz’s and was able to see her former drill instructor while deployed to Afghanistan.
“It’s pretty cool because the Marine Corps is pretty small, so being able to run into someone you knew from so long ago out here in Afghanistan is crazy,” Aspera said.
Aspera has plans of becoming a drill instructor herself and said she will try to mirror Paz’s dedication.
“I was actually thinking about becoming a drill instructor because I need to do a [secondary billet] soon,” Aspera said. “I will definitely try to emulate Staff Sgt. Paz and what she was as a drill instructor. She was a good drill instructor. She was definitely somebody to look up to.”
After completing her tour on the drill field, Paz found out she had a health issue.
“For a moment I thought I was done with the Marine Corps,” Paz said. “I thought that I wouldn’t be able to stay in. I had spinal cord surgery after completing my time in the drill field and finding out I had a serious spinal cord problem. They had to go in there and take out bits of my spine and everything. So it’s been very hard to get back physically to where I am now.”
Despite her injury, Paz will continue to push forward in the Marine Corps and hopes to serve 20 years before pursuing a job as a pharmacist.
“It crosses every Marine’s mind whether they want to stay in for the full 20 years or get out,” Paz said. “It crossed my mind once or twice. But just the thought of waking up in the morning and not putting on my uniform or never being able to go to a Marine Corps Ball again just didn’t feel right.”
During this deployment, Paz was working near the flight line during an attack on Camp Bastion in September.
“It was very real. Being in the air wing, it’s not very common for us to go through something like that. It was definitely an eye opener, but once everything was said and done and you saw how the Marines reacted, you witnessed that they did good things and what you taught them in boot camp still sticks with them to this day. They weren’t afraid and they just did what they had to do.”
While deployed to Afghanistan, Paz will continue to look after the unit’s funding and ensure the service members in MALS-16 have enough equipment to accomplish their missions.