MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – When shots rang out and flames burst through the Afghan sky over Camp Bastion last September, many things changed for many people.
Marines who thought they might never see combat from their flight line roles as fuel specialists, mechanics, information technology specialists, engineers and myriad support jobs suddenly found themselves under attack and engaging the enemy.
Sgt. Efrain Melecio, an aviation logistics information management support specialist, then with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16 [Forward], was walking out of the showers after a long day at work when he and his fellow Marines saw the attack.
"It was the biggest flame I've ever seen in my life," Melecio said. "We had a lot of Marines who were involved in combat. Seeing the effect it had on them, I wanted to one day be able to help somebody who is going through something like that."
Although he had regularly taken college courses throughout his six years in the Marine Corps, Melecio found a new commitment to higher education following the attack.
"I want to help people who suffer from [post-traumatic stress disorder]," the Chicago native said.
This summer, Melecio will be involved in a different kind of battle as he attends Officer Candidates School before starting college full-time at the University of Arizona, where he plans to major in psychology.
Maj. Gen. Steven Busby and Sgt. Maj. Anthony Spadaro, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general and sergeant major, respectively, stopped by Melecio's shop with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., May 21, 2013, to congratulate the sergeant on his selection to the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Program and wish him luck before he leaves.
Luck, however, may be a little unnecessary for the crisp, professional young Marine.
"I strive to accomplish as much as possible all the time," Melecio said, as he organized study materials from yet another college course. "I don't like sitting still and feeling like I'm not working toward something. I constantly feel the need to set new goals and obtain those goals."
Melecio's goals now focus on helping as many Marines as possible, embodying the leadership ideal of service before self.
"One of the biggest reasons I decided to do [the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Program] was because I want to lead and serve Marines," he said. "I love my job and I love working with Marines and I love getting hands on, but what draws my interest in earning a commission in the Marine Corps is being able to still work with Marines and having an increased level of responsibility."
The next four years will present new challenges for Melecio as he adapts to student life, but his experiences may give him added wisdom both as a student and, hopefully, a second lieutenant.
"I'm hoping to bring with me everything I've learned being a noncommissioned officer,” Melecio said. "I've learned a lot the past six years and I want to be able to share that with others and apply that as I move forward."