When U.S. Marine Corps Pvt. Daniela Portillo first sat down with her Marine recruiter, he placed 11 engraved tags on the desk in front of her. These tags, known as “benefit tags”, present tangible and intangible benefits to help identify the motivations of potential Marines. Portillo took a moment to survey her options, then pointed to the “Pride of Belonging”.
Portillo, soft spoken and shy, graduated Osbourn High School in Manassas, Virginia, in 2022. She planned to enlist in the Marine Corps alongside her sister, Kimberly. Kimberly was her close confidant, and Portillo had always looked up to her. In high school, Kimberly had decided to join the Marine Corps in order to open the door to educational opportunities. When she approached Portillo with the idea of earning the title together, Portillo immediately said yes.
However, Portillo began to experience intense homesickness for her home country of El Salvador. Her aspiration to join the Marine Corps had weakened, and she felt lost and aimless. She decided to temporarily postpone her enlistment in order to spend time there with her relatives.
After a few months, rejuvenated from the time spent with family, Portillo returned to the United States and resided in Tennessee with her father. She started working, but didn’t intend to stay at her customer service job long term - it was just a means to get back on her feet. But the weeks stretched into months, and soon a year had passed.
Kimberly, a year into her enlistment, reached out to her sister and encouraged her to reclaim her original goal. Longing for a purpose, and uplifted by her sister’s words, Portillo contacted Staff Sgt. Sean Clark, a recruiter out of Recruiting Substation (RSS) Murfreesboro, Recruiting Station Nashville.
On April 24, 2023, Portillo stepped on the infamous yellow footprints abroad Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. These painted footprints, arranged in a formation outside the base’s Receiving Building, signifies an individual’s new status of “recruit”. The next 13 weeks hold physical and mental challenges that will push recruits to their limit. Their voices will be hoarse from the yelling that is their only authorized form of communication, they will be exhausted due to long nights and early mornings, and they will be homesick from weeks separated from loved ones.
Portillo determined her secret to survival was to embrace an optimistic mindset - and this is what she did.
“I always tried to make the best of it,” she explained. “If I was being negative about it, I just knew it was going to be harder for me to get through.”
Portillo successfully earned the title of Marine, and graduated recruit training on July 21, 2023. She then returned to RSS Murfreesboro as a recruiter assistant under the Command Recruiting Program. This program offers new Marines the opportunity to return to their recruiting station in support of recruiting efforts. As a fresh face to the Marine Corps, they serve as a link between their fellow peers and recruiters. Portillo visits high schools with recruiters, where she interacts with teachers and students in order to establish a Marine Corps presence.
Portillo expressed excitement for the next stage of her career, which is Marine Combat Training (MCT) at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. There, for 29 days, she will acquire combat-based skills required of all non-infantry Marines in order to ensure fighting readiness. After MCT, she is slated to attend her Military Occupational Specialty training as a logistics specialist.
A longing for purpose is what drove Portillo to enlist in the Marine Corps, and she cites this as something that will carry her throughout her career.
“I felt lost and like I had no purpose,” Portillo stated. “And the Marine Corps opened me up to my purpose. And I feel like I’ll discover it more fully the longer I’m in.”