MCAGCC TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Twentynine Palms is far from the nearest body of water, but it's home to the best sailors in the 1st Marine Division.
One of them, Petty Officer 2nd Class Erick M. Vasquez, 27, has earned the Division's Senior Sailor of the Year award. As a petty officer 3rd class last year, the Ponce, Puerto Rico native won the Junior Sailor of the Year award. With this latest honor, Vasquez will earn his third Navy Achievement Medal in only three years aboard MCAGCC.
This is the third straight year a sailor from MCAGCC's Fleet Marine Force Navy Personnel Office has won the senior sailor award. MCAGCC sailors also won the junior sailor awards in 1999 and 2000.
Vasquez, a corpsman who serves as TAD clerk and service record petty officer in the FMF Navy Personnel Office, said doing a job well is only part of what it takes to be recognized as one of the top sailors in the 1st Marine Division.
"Volunteering in the community is a big thing," Vasquez said. "Every weekend I'm out there helping with something."
Vasquez is a Red Cross CPR instructor and, since Spanish is his first language, he also volunteers as a translator at Shriners' Hospital. More than anything, he said, he is proud of being able to set a good example for junior sailors and Marines.
"He's an overachiever," said Vasquez's boss, Command Master Chief Patrick Melcher. "He's one of the best petty officers I've met since I've been in the Navy. I wasn't that squared away back then."
Though he's been recognized several times for hard work and dedication, Vasquez refuses to rest on past accomplishments. He's currently enrolled in college and on track to earn a pre-med. degree. Eventually, he said, he'd like to serve the Navy as a doctor.
"My plan is to do 30 years if I can. I love the Navy," Vasquez said.
It would be a mistake to doubt that Vasquez will achieve his goal, especially after the long, hard fight he won to become a corpsman.
Vasquez joined the Navy in 1995, after only six years in the U.S. Since he was still not completely fluent in English, his ASVAB test scores were not high enough for the Navy to let him train as a corpsman. While doing time laboring as an airman aboard the USS Tarawa and serving with a Navy helicopter squadron, Vasquez kept studying. He eventually doubled his earlier ASVAB score and earned the right to attend corpsman training. He arrived at the Combat Center three years ago.
Vasquez said he never would have made it this far without the support of his wife, Silvia, and their two children. Faith has been a big factor in his life and career, as well.
"Put God first, and everything else just falls into place," Vasquez said.
He explained that any junior sailor or Marine can achieve the same level of success by giving "110 percent."
"Never give up on your dreams," Vasquez said. "They're always there. You just have to grab them."