News: Trading high heels for boots, former USO performer deploys to Afghanistan
Story by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Three years ago, Cpl. Rocio Sanchez was entertaining troops in Iraq with her vocals. Now she is on the other side, serving in the Marine Corps as an electronic key management systems clerk aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
“I traded in my high heels for combat boots and my microphone for an M-16 (service rifle),” said Sanchez, currently deployed with Retrograde and Redeployment in support of Reset and Reconstitution Operational Group, Regional Command (Southwest). “In May 2009 we went out to Iraq for a two-week tour.”
Sanchez, from South Gate, Calif., had already made her decision to join the Marines before the tour. She joined the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program earlier that same year.
“Looking back on it, I was sort of living a double life,” said Sanchez. “I was doing the poolee 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,” said Sanchez. “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 only met one person who recognized her when she was in Iraq. It was while she was at Marine Corps recruit training when a drill instructor, who had been in Iraq and attended her USO concert, noticed her.
Her commanding officer, Col. James Clark with R4OG, was at one of the bases she visited, but 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,” said Clark.
Many Marines are surprised to hear Sanchez was a USO performer. That is 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 Gunnery Sgt. Mark Neil, electronic key management system manager with R4OG.
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 of made it as a singer.”
Sanchez deployed to Afghanistan only a couple months after giving birth to her first child, David Sanchez III. Giving up a career as a singer was hard, but leaving her son was harder.
“I left him when he was 6 months old,” said Sanchez. “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 Sgt. David Sanchez Jr., Sanchez’s husband a military policeman with the provost marshal’s office at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
For Sanchez, deploying to Afghanistan was a necessity to grow as a leader and a Marine. When the opportunity came, she jumped at the chance.
“I need to better myself in order to lead others,” said Sanchez. “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 not backed down from the challenge. She 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.”
Whether as a Marine, a performer or mother, Sanchez puts forth the effort needed to be successful. Three years ago she was onstage entertaining Marines with her voice, now she works side by side with them, as a vital piece of Operation Enduring Freedom.