Monday, November 11, 2014 --
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. – The Marine Corps prides itself on its high standards, with service members who demonstrate honor, dedication and courage beyond what is expected. While all Marines have made a commitment to excellence, a small percentage of Marines accept responsibilities that are above their grade, or which require extraordinary ability, thus setting an example for their peers to emulate. These Marines are often recognized for their commitment to the Corps and country through meritorious boards and awards.
Sgt. Erika M. Cruz, the non-commissioned officer-in-charge at the military post office on Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., went above and and beyond the call of duty and was selected as the Marine Corps Installation West Marine of the Year for 2014. As a corporal of Marines, she volunteered for tours of duty in Korea and Afghanistan, and took on responsibilities that were above her grade. Due to her superior performance during her deployment and in garrison, she was meritoriously promoted to sergeant on Nov. 3.
“You’ve gone to Korea, and you’ve gone to Afghanistan,” said Col. Ricardo Martinez, the commanding officer of MCAS Yuma, to Cruz. “You’ve made things happen and, [you’re] not just sitting here waiting to be called. You’re going and volunteering, and I appreciate everything that you do.”
Cruz, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., began her Marine Corps career when she left home for recruit training in May 2010. Her first duty station was Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler at Okinawa, Japan, and there she met the kind of Marine she would later become.
“I was a private when I got to Okinawa, and there were well over 30 junior Marines there ... when you get to Okinawa, you have to put yourself on the map, work hard and don’t get in trouble,” said Cruz. “I remember there was a corporal, and he had just come back from Afghanistan, and he got meritorious corporal. He said in our military occupational specialty it is really hard to get corporal in your first four years ... He said he got lucky and went on a board, but when I saw him do that, I said, ‘I could do that.’”
Cruz earned recognition and her nomination because she displayed the ideal qualities of a consistent, hard-working Marine, in addition to high physical fitness scores and being well-rounded in all areas.
“When I found out that [she was] awarded meritorious sergeant, that was outstanding,” said Martinez. “It just shows all [of her] hard work and dedication ... That’s what awards boards or promotions boards want to see – Marines that are handling responsibilities that are above their level and punching above their weight class.”
Though her drive to succeed pushed her to become the Marine she is today, Cruz would not be the same person without her loving family and supportive peers.
Raised in a military family, Cruz’s life growing up was following her father, a Navy commander, to duty stations around the world. Cruz’s Marine Corps story actually began with her father and uncle’s deployments overseas. She still has an early memory of telling her father she wanted to help.
Once she graduated high school and moved from Masawa, Japan, back to Colorado Springs, she told her father she wanted to join the Marine Corps.
“I walked down to the recruiting office, I saw the office, and I was in awe,” said Cruz. “Everything was just so perfect ... The recruiter was wearing his [dress blue] deltas, and I told them, ‘You guys look awesome, and this is what I want to do.’”
Though Cruz has done a great deal to overcome every obstacle in her duties as a Marine, she still remains humble to her core and wishes to inspire others.
“My mom would always say, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ and that was one thing that always really helped me even though something really hurt or it was really hard,” said Cruz. “It’s an absolute honor to say the least, not just to be chosen, but also to be given the opportunity too, because there are so many amazing Marines that don’t get the chance."
“I think it gives [junior Marines] something to emulate, because as an NCO you definitely want to inspire those Marines around you," said Cruz.