ABOARD USS IWO JIMA -- Five months is all it took for one Marine to decide to sign his name and step up to the challenge of becoming a Marine. But what makes his case unique is that five months before recruit training, he was just arriving in the United States from Grenada.
In May 1999, Sgt. Patrick Noel, a refueler and assistant platoon sergeant for the Engineer Detachment, MEU Service Support Group 26, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), took the first step in becoming a Marine by placing the soles of his shoes over those famous yellow footprints at Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.
Noel left the laid back, tranquil environment of Grenada and arrived in the United States in December 1998. He said the biggest culture shock was how fast paced the American society was.
Most Marines remember a similar culture shock from boot camp. Not many can forget a drill instructor yelling for no reason or giving them 10 seconds to put on and tie a pair of boots.
Though the transition for Noel was difficult, he said that he was able to overcome it and adapt to his new surroundings. "I want to be successful," said the 25-year-old. "Through the Marine Corps, I can accomplish my goals."
When Noel enlisted, he didn't choose a specific military occupational specialty, but rather decided to let the Marine Corps decide where they needed him. The Marine Corps needed more refuelers, so he was sent to Virginia for his MOS school.
After school, Noel checked in as private first class to 2nd Force Service Support Group at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Even though his basic training and schools were over, his thirst for knowledge still drove him. This drive soon landed him a meritorious promotion board where Noel was promoted to lance corporal.
Less than four years after taking those first steps at becoming a Marine, Noel achieved his current rank of sergeant.
He said his ability to climb the rank ladder was based on simply "meeting the requirements." He had all his Marine Corps Institute courses completed, a good physical fitness test score and rifle score.
"Apart from doing my job, I don't procrastinate," Noel added. "I think that is what majorly hinders most Marines who miss a promotion by one or two points."
Because of his ability to get the job done, Noel was able to set up his first fuel farm at a recent Combine Arms Exercise in 29 Palms, Calif. Though it was the first time he ever had to set up a farm, he and his team got it done, he said.
As a sergeant, Noel was there to supervise, but once the Marines had a handle on what needed to be done, he said he just stepped back and let them take charge. "Leading by example is the best way to lead," he said.
Noel has three other Marines that work for him. Those three are currently spread across the three ships of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group. There is also not much call for ground vehicles staged on a ship to be fueled. To keep his skills sharp, Noel has begun learning about the aviation side of refueling.
He said that he tries to get up to the flight deck of the USS Iwo Jima as much as possible to learn the procedures of refueling aircraft vice vehicles.
In his quest for higher learning, Noel has also been receiving training from the Navy fuel lab on how to test fuel to ensure it is useable.
Noel explained that wisdom is always a personal goal for him. Everything he does, he attempts to do the best he can, and if something doesn't work the way he planned, he just "bounces back up."
To gain even more wisdom, Noel is planning on going to the fuel lab school, and finishing college, he said.
Besides gaining more knowledge, the first-term Marine also expressed his interest in staying a Marine while continuing to climb the rank ladder. "The Marine Corps is good for me, so there is no reason I should change that," he said.
His quest for knowledge and self-improvement is a trait that Noel also tries to instill in his Marines.
When a junior Marine tells him how he doesn't like the Marine Corps for whatever reason and is getting out in four years, Noel tells them to make the best of it now. He encourages them to go to school, so if they do get out, they already have the skills and education required to get a job, he said.
Once his deployment with the 26th MEU (SOC) is complete, Noel said he wants to take a trip back to Grenada for a visit. Until then, he will continue to lead his Marines and soak up information along the way.
To learn more about Noel and the rest of the Marines and Sailors with the 26th MEU (SOC) visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.