From the streets of Los Angeles to the swamps of Parris Island;Marine makes most of opportunity
By Lance Cpl. Darhonda V. Hall
| | September 24, 2004
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Growing up on the tough streets of Los Angeles and losing both of her parents in a tragic accident before the age of 3, Gunnery Sgt. Nichelle A. Mason, November Co. first sergeant, 4th RTBn., learned from an early age to take advantage of every opportunity. One of those opportunities came when Mason was a senior in high school. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test had been taken by many students in her high school, and she had been one of them. She did not have any intention of joining any branch of the military until she received a postcard in the mail from a Marine Corps recruiter. The post card read she was qualified to join the United States Marine Corps. Although able to go to college because of grants and awards given to her by the state of California, Mason decided she wanted to do something different with her life and took what the postcard read into consideration.“I was tired of going to school, and when I got the postcard in the mail from the recruiter, I decided to call him,” Mason said. “Something he said changed my whole outlook on life.”In November 1987, Mason enlisted in the Marine Corps with the Military Occupational Specialty of an aviation supply clerk. Years into her career, Mason began to strive for her goal to become a drill instructor.“[Mason] really wanted to become a drill instructor, but her MOS was a hard field to switch over from,” said Gunnery Sgt. Susie Quinn, Oscar Co. gunnery sergeant, who was a drill instructor in one of Mason’s platoons.Finally, Mason, then a staff sergeant, entered drill instructor school on Sept. 29, 2001.Not knowing much about the drill field, Mason’s ambition to successfully complete Drill Instructor School and not having to return to her previous unit as a failure motivated her to finish her training as a drill instructor.On Jan. 29, 2002, Mason reported to 4th RTBn. where she picked up her first platoon with November Co. as a third hat drill instructor.Completing her first cycle as a third hat drill instructor proved to be a beginning of a true career for Mason. She went on to complete her second cycle as the experienced drill instructor and finished her last two cycles as the senior drill instructor. After her fourth cycle, Mason returned from quota and was given the billet of series gunnery sergeant.Now, holding the rank of gunnery sergeant, Mason holds the billet of November Co. first sergeant and has held every other billet at November Co. except battalion sergeant major and drill master, a billet in which her husband, who is also a drill instructor, has held at 3rd RTBn. “My most satisfying billet was experienced drill instructor,” she said. “Everything recruits are taught comes from the EDI in some way or another. The other drill instructors on the team are, of course, essential and train the recruits as well, but the basic fundamentals of the Marine Corps way of life comes from the EDI.”Accepting the responsibilities of each individual billet helped Mason observe recruit training from different angles, whether it was upfront and directly as a senior drill instructor or indirectly as a company gunnery sergeant. Mason, who has been at 4th RTBn. for more than two years, said she has aspirations to continue leading from the front and to maintain her professional progress in the Corps.“My children and my husband are my inspiration to set my goals high and to strive everyday and attain more, do more and inspire the future of the Corps to excel,” said Mason.“I am currently in the promotion zone for first sergeant and I would love to be selected as one instead of ‘acting’ in the billet,” she added.Being a drill instructor is a demanding job in all aspects of life, personal and social, but it also helps one stand out a bit so one can be seen as someone who is ready for new challenges, said Mason.“You must never forget that you are a Marine first,” said Mason. “When I came to Parris Island, First Sergeant Kimberly Bush was the November Co. first sergeant. She was the epitome of demanding, professional, rigorous and leader of Marines. She never allowed her Marines to forget the fact that we are Marines first, and I truly admire her.”Each of the billets Mason has held were accepted as new challenges for her.“I never expected to hold each billet, but when I did, I accepted it willingly as an opportunity to move up with anticipation,” said Mason.