CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Three years ago, Marine Corps Cpl. Rocio Sanchez was entertaining troops in Iraq with her vocals during USO shows. Now she is serving as an electronic key management systems clerk here.
“I traded in my high heels for combat boots and my microphone for an M-16,” said Sanchez, currently deployed with Retrograde and Redeployment in support of Regional Command Southwest’s Reset and Reconstitution Operational Group. “In May 2009, we went out to Iraq for a two-week tour.”
Sanchez, from South Gate, Calif., already had made her decision to join the Marines before the tour. She joined the Marine Corps delayed entry program earlier that year.
“Looking back on it, I was sort of living a double life,” Sanchez said. “I was doing the [pre-enlistment] functions, and at the same time preparing for the tour as a performer.”
Shortly after the tour, Sanchez informed her band that she was joining the Marine Corps.
“I told my band I was sorry, but I had to do this,” she said. “Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be in the military, just like I had wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be four things when I was little: a teacher, a singer, a Marine and a police officer. I’ve done the first three so far.”
Sanchez said she’s met only one person who recognized her from her Iraq performance tour. While she was at Marine Corps recruit training, a drill instructor who had been in Iraq and attended her USO concert noticed her. Her commanding officer, Marine Corps Col. James Clark, said he was at one of the bases Sanchez visited, but that he did not attend the concert.
“From what I understand, she’s a very good singer, but I know for a fact that she’s a very good Marine,” Clark said.
Many Marines are surprised to hear Sanchez was a USO performer -- until they hear her sing. “I heard her sing in church, and I told her maybe she should go on one of those shows, like ‘The Voice,’ and that’s when the story came out,” said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Mark Neil, electronic key management system manager.
Sanchez no longer gets on a stage for servicemembers, but that does not keep her from singing.
“Her voice is beautiful,” said Neil, from San Diego. “She also sings around the office. I told her we are happy to have her in the Marine Corps, but I thought she could have made it as a singer.”
Sanchez deployed to Afghanistan only a couple months after her first child, David Sanchez III, was born. Giving up a career as a singer was hard, she said, but leaving her son was harder.
“I left him when he was 6 months old,” Sanchez said. “He couldn’t even sit up by himself. That was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life.” David is at home with Marine Corps Sgt. David Sanchez Jr., Sanchez’s husband a military policeman with the provost marshal’s office at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
For the singer-turned-Marine, deploying to Afghanistan was a necessity to grow as a leader and a Marine. When the opportunity came, she said, she jumped at the chance.
“I need to better myself in order to lead others,” she explained. “I have to have that experience. I decided to join the Marine Corps, and I take responsibility for my job. I wasn’t afraid to deploy, because I knew it was part of the job.”
Sanchez has stepped into her job at Camp Leatherneck and has impressed the Marines around her with her maturity and work ethic.
“She hasn’t missed a beat,” said Clark, from Tollesboro, Ky. “She’s been highly professional out here, and I’m really thankful she was willing to come. She’s just a tremendous young lady, and someone the junior Marines can look up to. She is a great example of what hard work and dedication will get you.”