MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- Tradition and fate brought a former recruit together with her former senior drill instructor and mentor Nov. 1 at the Combat Center's Marine Corps birthday pageant and celebration. This year's 227th birthday celebration is their last before retirement. As Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey, commanding general, MCAGCC, performed the annual custom of cutting the birthday cake, the narrator read the name of this year's oldest Marine, Master Gunnery Sgt. Patricia A. Caron, traffic chief, Traffic Management Office.A smile and sense of awe came over Master Sgt. Cheryl Oban, chief instructor, Network Specialist Course, D. Co., Marine Corps Communications and Electronics School, as she realized the narrator had just announced the name of her senior drill instructor. More than 20 years had passed since they had last seen each other."She had a quiet sternness about her that hadn't changed," said Oban. "She still gives off the perception that 'you do what you're told.'" Oban followed in her footsteps with her own stint at the drill field, and plans to retire sometime during summer 2003.The fact that Oban remembered Caron in such vivid detail is testament to the type of person and Marine the master gunnery sergeant is: A consummate professional, a confidante, and a "right-hand" type with a wealth of knowledge, according to Capt. Ray Zapata, officer in charge, TMO."We all draw on her knowledge, and she uses it to run the show," said Zapata. "She's extremely professional-probably one of the most professional Marines I know on and off duty."Zapata also said it's impossible to tell Caron is coming up on her retirement because her work ethic has not changed a bit."On a daily basis, she mentors, counsels ... just this morning she conducted a drill competition with our noncommissioned officers. She drilled them herself, and everyone was pretty motivated by the fact that she is so hands-on and mixes it up with them," he said.Caron volunteered for enlistment in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, in October 1968. She rose through the ranks quickly, going from private to sergeant in one year and nine months while working in the air freight section at MCAS El Toro, Calif. After that she made her first trip to Parris Island, S.C."I spent four months doing on-the-job training because at that time there was no formal school for female drill instructors," Caron said. After a two-year tour on the drill field she finished her enlistment in MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in 1972."I decided to get out and return home to Albany, New York. I was undecided about staying in, so I went Reserve and got a good job at the post office," she said. "The Reserves turned out to be a good place to mark time but not a good place to stay. It was either go active duty again or get out."In 1977 she returned to active duty and was sent to MCAS Yuma, Ariz., for duty as a household goods counselor for TMO. In 1981 she made her second trip to the drill field."Things had definitely changed over 11 years, and not just the training," she said.After attending Drill Instructor School, picking up staff sergeant and completing a successful tour in 1984, she took her first overseas assignment at the passenger terminal in Iwakuni, Japan. She then spent three years at MCAS Yuma as the base education SNCOIC, and returned to the same job in Iwakuni until 1989."My next orders were to Henderson Hall, Headquarters Marine Corps. I fought those orders as hard as I could, so it was ironic that I ended up spending over six years there," said Caron. "I picked up two more ranks there. I left in 1995 as a master sergeant."Caron then went back to Yuma, this time as the marksmanship training chief. In September 2000, the Marine Corps rewarded Caron's vast experience and versatility with the rank of master gunnery sergeant.Following her promotion, Caron took orders to MCAGCC TMO where she has been ever since. She retires in March 2003, with 30 years active duty and four years Reserve time.Caron is humble when it comes to discussing the difference she has made in people's lives."Did I ever think I would stay this long? No-but I'm glad I did. I'd like to believe I've displayed good leadership, and delivered sound advice over the years."She is not so humble when it comes to preparing Marines for success. Caron knows what it takes to succeed."To any Marine in any position: Know your job. Don't let outsiders tell you how to do it. Have your ducks in a row so that you're not afraid to go toe-to-toe. Knowing your job inside and out instills confidence," she said. "Also, don't be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them."Caron believes that the key ingredient to her success is commitment, an important Core value."You have to commit yourself from the heart to stay in this many years. There's a lot of sacrifice involved."Caron plans on retiring to Las Vegas because of the climate and its fairly large size. She will probably do some volunteer work as long as it "doesn't involve personnel work." Wherever she goes and whatever she does, she will always have a place in the memory and hearts of her Marines and the Corps.Her parting gift was to single-handedly develop a plan for raising ball funds. None of her Marines had to pay for ball tickets this year.