Greensboro, NC -- Pvt. Katherine L. Palacio's love for the Marine Corps is infections. With every word and action she has proven herself loyal to the Corps' core values of honor, courage and commitment, and has shown her unending perseverance.
For the past four years, Palacio has fought for her place among the few, the proud, and she has finally earned it. On June 6, Palacio walked across the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., parade deck along with the other members of platoon 4018, O Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, showcasing her transformation from civilian to Marine.
For Palacio, this transformation has taken much longer than just the three months at recruit training or even longer than the one year many poolees spend in the delayed entry program.
Palacio was born February 1992, in Tucson, Ariz., to two Mexican-immigrant parents. Her father was not around for very long so Palacio was raised in a single-parent household along with her two siblings, an older brother and younger sister. Her mother worked hard, in multiple jobs, to raise her three children.
"She was really inspiring," said Palacio. "She worked a lot to keep us happy and healthy. We always had what we needed."
Palacio knew she wanted to join the military at nine years old when she watched the Sept. 11 attacks on T.V.
"It made me mad that someone would come to our country and kill innocent civilians," Palacio said.
She played Pop Warner football as a child and even played football her freshman year of high school. When she could not get time on the field she quit football and competed in the academic decathlon and joined the National Honor Society.
"If I could not play football I wanted to do something with the school that did not interfere with work," said Palacio.
Palacio channeled her mother's work ethic through herself. She pushed hard at school while also holding down a job to help around the house and pay for things like new sneakers and clothes.
Her hard work at school lead to a full-ride academic scholarship to the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz. But Palacio had other plans; she was going to join the Marine Corps. She had first approached a recruiter at the end of her junior year and enlisted in early 2010 but she was medically discharged in March of that year.
She had lost her spot in the delayed entry program, but not all was lost because she could get a waiver. She was told to come back in six-months, and then told to return in a year. For two years she worked odd jobs and began taking classes at the University of Arizona as she waiting for another opportunity to join.
"I figured I would just start taking classes until I heard a yes," said Palacio. "I did not plan on actually graduating from there."
In 2012, a family friend, Pam Troupe-Jones, had a suggestion. Her son, now Lance Cpl. Daniel Troupe, had just joined the Marine Corps and maybe one of the recruiters from the Greensboro, N.C., office could work with her. So, Palacio and Troupe-Jones arranged for her move across the county to pursue her dream.
"I wanted to help her because she is a good kid," said Troupe-Jones. "I wanted to give her a chance for her dream to come true. My husband and I figured it was a small thing we could do."
In October, 2012, Palacio met Sgt. Justin L. Lail, a recruiter with Recruiting Sub-Station Greensboro, N.C., who immediately started processing Palacio's paperwork. There was a lot of work to do, Palacio needed a plethora of waivers and she had to have tattoos removed from her fingers.
"I felt like, if she had the heart, desire and drive to put into joining, then I had nothing but that to return to her," said Lail, a Catawba County, N.C., native.
It was mostly a waiting game for Palacio while Lail filed the paperwork. She got a job at McDonald's and visited the sub-station four to five times a week to work on her physical fitness, which paid off.
"She does more pull-ups, more crunches and has a faster run time than most of my males," said Lail.
On Palacio's birthday, she received the news she had been waiting for, she would be going to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Charlotte, N.C., to officially swear in as part of the United States Marine Corps.
"I cried like a little girl," said Palacio.
Her four year battle was finally over and a new four-year journey was just beginning. She enlisted as an aviation mechanic and left for recruit training at MCRD Parris Island on March 10, 2014.
Palacio excelled at boot camp. Thanks to her years of prep, she earned two perfect scores on her physical fitness test and combat fitness test, making her the second most physically fit recruit in her company.
Her excitement to finally make it to boot camp carried her through and she received her Eagle, Globe and Anchor, the symbol of becoming a Marine, on May 30, 2014, in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial.
"I cried at the ceremony," said Palacio. "I just about drowned in tears. It was so surreal and it took a while for it to sink in."
Troupe-Jones says that she never doubted Palacio's ability to achieve her goal and that Palacio never gave up on herself. Through all the hurdles and set-backs Troupe-Jones and her family kept pushing Palacio and she kept going forward.
"A lot of other people told me to give up," said Palacio. "I said ‘no,' not until Jesus himself tells me I cannot."
Lail added that he was very proud of Palacio and impressed by her perseverance.
"She was the most driven poolee I have ever seen," said Lail. "Seeing her as a Marine is an accomplishment. It makes me feel very successful and makes all the hard work worth it."
Palacio says she plans on staying in the Marine Corps as long as they will keep her. She is now on recruiter's assistance, a program that lets young Marines work at a recruiting sub-station while at home instead of using leave. It will be her job to find young people just like her before she continues on with her training and what will hopefully be a long career.