CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq -- When Teresa Fernandez enlisted in the Marine Corps, she sought independence, a solid paycheck and a challenge. Three years later, she’s achieved all of that and more.
Corporal Fernandez received a combat meritorious promotion this month for her work as a 2nd Marine Division Headquarters Battalion armorer. The promotion made that paycheck a little more appealing and the challenge all the more rewarding as she continues to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As a corporal, Fernandez is now part of the Corps’ non-commissioned officer ranks, historically renowned for being the backbone of the Marines’ leadership structure. All of the extra hours here in the armory to maintain, repair and keep track of the battalion’s weapons has been the challenge of her career. She hasn’t always been in the gun slinging business though.
The 21-year-old, 2002 graduate of Abraham Clark High School has roots in volunteerism stemming from her internship program at the Introduction to Health Occupations School. During her high school years, she volunteered at a nursing home and hospital, rotating between departments and learning personal care.
Getting back to that kind of work is what she strives for. The Marine Corps lifestyle has taught her a few lessons that will ensure her success, no matter where she goes. And the high tempo of her job keeps her on her feet.
“I started earning my own pay, making my own decisions and that was exactly what I wanted,” said Fernandez. “Of course, it was tough to adjust to at first, but I learned to be patient and to pay attention to the details.”
Fernandez has had to make another recent adjustment as well. When she deployed here for Operation Iraqi Freedom earlier this year, she was responsible not only for her own unit’s weapons, but for several other units as well. Now, she works on weapons for 2nd Tank Battalion, and 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment’s Provisional Military Police Company here.
The experience has proved challenging, but it’s nothing she and her crew couldn’t tackle.
“When I came out here I had to learn hands-on, which is a lot faster than back in the states,” said Fernandez. “We work on weapons a lot more here. There’s at least one broken every day.”
“Out here, parts of the weapons that haven’t needed repair for years are breaking because of what they go through. Also a lot of repairs we would normally send off, we now take care of here. It’s hard, but it’s good learning.”
Fernandez will be learning some new things other than weapons systems very soon. She will conduct searches on Iraqi women while in Camp Fallujah, assisting the Marines maintain the city’s entry control points. The ECPs regulate who goes in and out of the city to deter insurgent activity. As a woman, Fernandez holds a very vital part in that mission, as male Marines are not allowed to search women in Iraq because of cultural sensitivities.
“She’s done a lot of work here; probably as much as an entire CSSD (Combat Service Support Detachment),” said Gunnery Sgt. Larry Blazer, armory staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the armory. “She’s the kind of Marine who doesn’t just sit around waiting for people to stop by the armory with broken weapons. She goes up in the towers at the base camp and checks for herself.”
“She actually caught and fixed two fifty cals (.50 Caliber machine guns) on the front gate that weren’t operable. She’s one of the reasons why units have given praise about how the guns function.”
Just three years ago, Fernandez’ toughest decision was choosing what college she wanted to attend. Now, she’s one of a few Marines here who keep the units armed and ready.
“I wasn’t ready for college when I graduated high school,” said Fernandez. “I was in an ROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) program and I really liked the military regimen so I decided to join the Marines. I did it because I heard they were the toughest service. Besides, people said I couldn’t do it and I wanted to prove them wrong.”