PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. —
Surrounded by a sea of recruits and the smell of hot brass, it’s easy to spot Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Estefania Patino’s campaign cover and trademark green marksmanship instructor jacket as she patrols Chosin rifle range’s firing line here, inspecting weapons and encouraging shooters as they sight in on their targets.
As a primary marksmanship instructor, Patino is charged to make riflemen out of the recruits. To them, she is a shooting guru. But they would never guess that Patino had never fired a weapon before she joined the Marines.
A Laredo, Texas, native, Patino first developed her interest in shooting during recruit training, where she fired a weapon for the first time in her life. It was not a natural experience for Patino, who struggled at first.
“In boot camp, I was actually really bad. I got sharpshooter,” she said. “All I remember about the first time shooting was that it was cold and it was December. It wasn’t natural to me and took a lot of practice and reiteration for me to learn how to shoot. Once I got comfortable with it, I loved it.”
Honing Marksmanship Skills
While stationed in Okinawa, Patino volunteered to go through the Combat Marksmanship Coach Course, where she honed her rifle marksmanship skills and learned to shoot a pistol for the first time. Patino excelled, and her love for teaching grew along with her love for shooting.
“I love that I would be able to help my Marines through the process because I was able to memorize the knowledge and sustain it,” Patino said.
Patino later volunteered for drill instructor duty. While training recruits, she noticed there were trends of female recruits not performing as well on the range as Patino felt they could. Using her experience as a marksmanship coach, she stressed the importance of marksmanship knowledge to her recruits, and in turn, her platoons were recognized for their improved performance.
Seeking Unique Challenge
Later, she decided to pursue the challenge of becoming a primary marksmanship instructor, something few drill instructors had done before.
“I became a PMI because I enjoyed teaching marksmanship as a drill instructor,” Patino said. “My PMIs were always very helpful in helping me better assist my recruits.”
Patino said she relates to recruits on a personal level.
“I don’t put on a ‘persona’ for them, and I tell them that I struggled and I got nervous,” Patino said. “I try to make them comfortable, and tell them that if they keep trying and they keep pushing that maybe one day they’ll get to wear this green jacket.”
Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Angelica Dixon, senior drill instructor for Platoon 4036, Oscar Company, said Patino’s passion for teaching influenced her decision to become a marksmanship instructor.
“Weapons were her passion from the beginning, but I also believe she was born to teach,” Dixon said. “She’s a hard worker. She never complains.”
Patino’s drive for mentoring and coaching on the range opened the door for more female drill instructors to pursue becoming PMIs, Dixon said.
“Besides making Marines, she’s also making marksmen, and for a recruit to see that is inspiring,” Dixon said. “She kept pushing to get to where she is, and that’s what every Marine should do. If you want to do something, don’t let anything stop you. And she didn’t let anything stand in her way.”
Patino will return to regular drill instructor duty in a few months. She hopes to become a senior drill instructor and a chief drill instructor before returning to the fleet.
“I’d like to take the knowledge that I have from the range and share it with my [drill instructors] and teach them how they can better prepare their recruits for the range — even if it’s something small,” Patino said. “My [senior drill instructor] taught me how important the range is. When brand-new Marines get out to the fleet, they’re all going to have the same one ribbon, but their shooting badge is always going to be what sets them apart.”