Standout Marines of the Year

Marine Security Guard may have been a “B” billet for GySgt Luis Vasquezestrada but it was a role he put his heart into.

Marine Security Guard may have been a “B” billet for GySgt Luis Vasquezestrada but it was a role he put his heart into. 

Vasquezestrada was awarded the top Marine Security Guard of the Year for his performance while posted in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a year.

“It’s a huge honor to be able to represent such a command,” Vasquezestrada said. “It was a big deal for me because my Marines and I did a lot of hard work, and I wish they could all be awarded because they are the ones who truly made this happen.”

Vasquezestrada said one of his team’s primary goals was to foster positive community relations with the locals. The Marines showed the diplomacy side of the Corps by participating in fundraisers, getting involved with kids, starting reading programs, donating baseball gear and helping at orphanages.

“Our mission takes us across the globe,” Vasquezestrada said. “To us it’s something special because it opens eyes for things going on around the world and you can see how much a couple guys can impact a different area in the world. Its give you a sense of pride.”

Vasquezestrada was one of the 12 Marines the Marine Corps Association & Foundation recognized Jan. 30 at Marine Corps Base Quantico for their exceptional work ethic and performance as part of the annual Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Combined Awards.

The CMC awards recognizes billets that Marine Corps Gazette editor Col John Keenan, USMC (Ret) calls “among the most challenging in the Corps.”

“It is important that we recognize superb performance in these difficult and demanding billets,” Keenan said.


LtGen Milstead recognizes GySgt Luis Vasquezestrada as Marine Security Guard of the Year.
Photo credit by Ron Lunn.

The Drill Instructor of the Year winner was SSgt Kenneth Williamson and the runner up was SSgt Joshua Cook.

The Recruiter of the Year winner was Sgt Alex Renner and the runner up was SSgt Mark Mermis.

The Prior Service Recruiter of the year was GySgt Tomas Rubio and the runner up was GySgt Jose Alvarez.

The Career Retention Specialist of the Year winner was Sgt Richard Atkins and the runner up was Sgt Benton Gillis.

The Combat Instructor of the Year winner was SSgt Dean Long and the runner up was Sgt Shawn Bowman.

The Marine Security Guard of the Year winner was SSgt Luis Vasquezestrada and the runner up was GySgt Nicholas Pascuzzi.

The MCA&F congratulates all the honored Marines. 

 “The Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Combined Awards Program recognizes the exceptional performers,” said Leatherneck editor Col Walt Ford, USMC (Ret). “These are the Marines who ensure we have the high quality so necessary for winning America’s battles and promoting America’s presence abroad.”

That exceptional performance is what SSgt Richard Atkins seeks in Marines. The  Career Retention Specialist of the Year winner is stationed in Okinawa and sees to it that the Corps keeps its best.

“We want to make sure we maintain those highly qualified Marines,” Atkins said. “We have a reputation of being the best and we want to keep and maintain that reputation.”

It’s a mantra Atkins follows as well, said his wife Andrea Atkins. She said her husband didn’t realize his accomplishment until he was promoted and pinned with the honor at Marine Corps Base Quantico during the MCA&F ceremony. 

“It’s been late nights and early morning,” Andrea Atkins said. “He’s such a hard worker and it’s not often he gets recognized. I’m very proud of him.”

The Marine Corps Color Guard begins the award ceremony.
Photo credit by Ron Lunn.

LtGen Milstead addresses the audience during the award ceremony.
Photo credit by Ron Lunn.


On behalf of MCA&F, LtGen Milstead gives a single stem rose to honor each award recipient's spouse.
Photo credit by Ron Lunn.