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Marine's military ambition spurred by duty to country

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Oct. 26, 2001) -- "There's nothing like the good old United States," said the seasoned Marine Corps sergeant major, a veteran of deployments to nearly a dozen countries.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Pablino Sanchez, VMAQ1, Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C. is here in support of Operation Northern Watch. He has served with the United States Marine Corps for nearly 30 years now and has been to Japan, Albania, Tunisia, Italy, Spain, France, Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, Greece and Israel. But for him, home is the East Coast of the United States.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Pablino Sanchez, VMAQ1, Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C. is here in support of Operation Northern Watch. He serves as the sergeant major for VMAQ1, the unit that flies EA6B Prowler aircraft. He is responsible for the morale and personnel issues of more than 150 troops in his unit. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Sorrels.

"My roots are now in North Carolina, close to the Marines," said Sanchez.

He is stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. He lives there with his two boys and his wife Dawn, a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. The dual-military household works well for the family.

"Being in the Marine Corps and being on the road, I figured if I married a Marine, she would know what I am all about. She understands. She is back home taking care of the boys and I am forward deployed," said Sanchez. "When she has been forward deployed, I have been back taking care of things. It works out for both of us."

Sanchez admits his boys might not be so cheery about the situation.

"You can imagine what my boys feel. They have a gunny sergeant for a mother and a sergeant major for a father, so they are pretty regimented by now. They either clean that room up or secure that liberty," joked Sanchez.

While Sanchez's wife serves in an administrative position at the MCAS Headquarters at Cherry Point, he serves as the sergeant major for VMAQ1, the unit that flies the EA-6B Prowler aircraft. He is responsible for the morale and personnel issues for more than 150 troops in his unit.

Sanchez joined the service around the time a Navy helicopter pulled the last few Marines in Vietnam off the roof of the U.S. embassy is Saigon. The effects of that conflict left a mark on him.

"I grew up in the '60s and the '70s. Vietnam was a major issue then. It was on TV all the time," said Sanchez. "I figured it was my duty to serve my country and do what I had to do. That's why I had to join the Marine Corps. Giving my country part of my time was the right thing to do."

Of course, it wasn't just the war that could pull a young man out of his parents home into a life of service. Sanchez has five brothers, all of whom chose to serve in the military.

"I had many brothers in the service - three in the Marine Corps and two in the Army - but I am the only one that made it a career," said Sanchez.

In the Marines, Sanchez served for 14 years as an aircraft electrician, specializing on the Harrier aircraft. He also served as a senior instructor for the Harrier weapons system. Around the time he became a first sergeant, he embarked on a nearly six-year experience with a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a ground combat unit.

"I think my most exciting time was in the ground element. I grew up in aviation, so I had always thought grunts didn't know what they were doing. But after being attached with the ground side for approximately six years, I learned there are some intelligent Marines out there," said Sanchez. "I went there with an aviation background, and I had to rely on those young Marines to teach me those weapon systems that I had only read about but hadn't had the opportunity to touch.

"Any Marine who can lead a patrol out there in enemy territory and bring those Marines back safe has a lot of leadership, courage and planning ability. Those Marines out there operating those weapon systems really know what's going on."

Sanchez has seen a lot of changes in the way the services conduct their business.

"Technology has brought us a long way. It has saved time for us and made jobs easier for all the services. This is a change for the better. With the technology, you need fewer Marines, sailors and airmen to do a job that used to take more than what we have today," said Sanchez. "My only concern is that if something should happen, and we lose that plug, it is going to affect a lot of people."

Despite his concern, he knows his Marines have got that angle covered.

"Of course the Marine Corps has a different role because we do have ground forces. They will train to go in and do their mission regardless. Even with the technology and weapon systems there is a possibility to lose lives," said Sanchez. "It boils down to the training and leadership when it comes to what happens on the battlefield.

"Every Marine is a rifleman first. When you go through boot camp, that is the first thing they teach you. If the technology was unplugged, and everything went down, you have to resort to combat arms. The Marine Corps teaches you that."

Retirement is not far off for this leader. For a career after the service he plans to stay near the Marines in North Carolina and, for a change, be his own boss.

"I thought a lot about it, and I want to go into business for myself. I have done my share for the country and I look forward to working for myself, to keeping myself occupied," said Sanchez.

While retired, he knows his Corps will never be far away.

"Most Marines realize that no matter what you do, when you give the Marine Corps six or eight years, you are always going to be a Marine," said Sanchez. "I can be out and run across somebody that was in the Marine Corps. As soon as you find out he has been a Marine, the conversation starts. Before you know it, it's like you have known each other all your lives and you are brothers and you trade phone numbers and you keep in touch."

With that type of universal camaraderie, Sanchez can be with the Marines at home in North Carolina or wherever his travels take him.