New York, New York: Professional singer finds voice in Marine Corps

27 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Beth Zimmerman

On the evening of October 2, Marines from 1st Battalion, 4th Marines filled a recreational tent in Najaf, Iraq, to watch a highly anticipated boxing match between Felix Trinidad and Ricardo Mayorga on American Forces Network (AFN) Sports. Meanwhile, fans in New York anxiously waited for the fight to kick off live from Madison Square Garden. Then, Lance Cpl. Elizabeth Quinones, 6th Communication Battalion, Brooklyn, N.Y., stepped in front of the mike.Both the packed Garden and tent full of grunts hushed as the straight-backed female Marine in dress blues belted out the National Anthem."As soon as she sang the first verse, we were captivated," said 1st Sgt. J. G. Morales, 1st Bn, 4th Marines, via email. "When she was done the Marines clapped, cheered, 'ooh-rahed' and whistled," he said. "I heard another Marine say, now that is the way to sing our National Anthem!" said Morales. "If it was not customary to stand at (the position of) attention during the National Anthem, she would definitely inspire (people) to do so."Quiones is an activated reservist who has spent her civilian life professionally singing and acting. Since her activation this year, she has transitioned to singing for the Marine Corps. "A lot of times when people see Marines, they just think of fighting wars," said Inspector-Instructor 1st Sgt. Charles M. Kurz, 6th Comm. "They see her, and they see that Marines have talents also," he said. "We have everything from athletes to singers."Quinones started singing when she was in elementary school. Her extensive resume includes singing backup for Christina Aguilara for four months to promote "Genie in a Bottle." She co-starred in an off-Broadway show, and she appeared in television shows, including Third Watch, Law and Order, and Sex in the City. The Brooklyn native also sang backup for Mariah Carey and Marc Anthony. But she said those jobs didn't just happen overnight."You don't just 'boom,' get out there and get famous," said Quinones. "You have to work at it," she said. "So, I got my feet wet and got a taste of everything."Quinones said between acting and singing, she prefers the influence of singing."I have something," Quiones said matter-of-factly about her talents. "I'm not just going to go out and sing a song and that's it," she said. "I like to motivate people when I sing," she added with quiet intensity. "The National Anthem -just that song-has already motivated so many people."Morales and his Bravo Company Marines in Iraq were part of those motivated by Quinones's voice. After her performance at the Trinidad v. Mayorga fight, Morales sent Quinones an email that said how much she boosted their morale. She was almost overwhelmed when she read the letter."I'm not a weepy type of person..." said Quinones, trailing off. "That was a very proud moment," she finished. "They're out on the front lines with their M-16s, serving our country, and I'm here singing," she said. "I don't have an M-16 in hand, but I have my voice to motivate others," she said. "It's another way I can serve my country."The Lance Corporal's motivation and willingness to serve doesn't end there."She likes to volunteer for anything," said Kurz. Quinones is a rifleman in 6th Comm's color guard, and she also belongs to the 21-rifle salute firing detail. "She loves being a Marine," he added. "It doesn't matter how small an opportunity it is, she would turn everything else down at any chance to represent the Marine Corps."The espirit de Corps Quinones displays dates back almost 30 years."Since I was a little girl, I've wanted to join the Marine Corps," said 33-year-old Quinones. However, her road to becoming a Marine was plagued by obstacles."I tried to [enlist] at several different times (after high school), and different circumstances prevented me," said Quinones. More than 10 years later, she tried again to enlist -only to find more obstacles. First, the 30-year-old needed a waiver because of her age. She traveled from New York to Washington, D.C., to find a recruiter who would put in a waiver for her. She then passed her full Physical Fitness Test with flying colors, before the recruiter sent her home because of a tattoo on the back of her neck. Then, Quinones spent almost $1,000 of her own money to have the tattoo removed. Months later, she finally swore into the Marines. "I think timing is everything," said Quinones, who has now been in the Marine Corps Reserve for two years. "I think that being a Marine now at 30-something helps me bring more wisdom and more experience to the table," she said. "A lot of people ask me, why I waited so long to join," she said. "It wasn't that I waited, it's that it wasn't the right time for me."Meanwhile, Quinones's roadblocks didn't end when she reached Parris Island a couple years ago. The determined recruit who overcame so much to make it to the island broke her foot within three hours of arriving."Well, they said move with a sense of urgency," Quinones said with a laugh. Her injury came during initial gear issue. "There were tennis shoes on the deck, and I remember telling myself not to do something stupid like trip over one of them," she said. "I hopped over one shoe, and then stepped on the edge of another one and heard my foot crack," she said nonchalantly. "I was not about to get kicked off that island, so I just kept going." Quinones hopped around on one foot, trying on tennis shoes, for 20 minutes before a drill instructor realized she was hurt. She spent three months in the female Marine Recovery Platoon, and she graduated boot camp six months after she arrived at the island. Quinones said that actually becoming a United States Marine has overshadowed her singing abilities."That's just something I was born with," said Quinones of her ability to belt out songs. "I wasn't born a Marine.""I did all these cool things (as a civilian), but my voice was never heard," said Quinones. "Now I'm in the Marine Corps, and I'm singing for Marines, and my voice is being heard."
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