DI’s Passion to Teach Leads Her from Drill Field to Rifle Range

DI’s Passion to Teach Leads Her from Drill Field to Rifle Range

Surrounded by a sea of recruits and the smell of hot brass, it’s easy to spot Staff Sgt. Estefania Patino’s campaign cover and trademark green marksmanship instructor jacket as she patrols Chosin rifle range’s firing line, inspecting weapons and encouraging shooters as they sight in on their targets.

Patino is a Primary Marksmanship Instructor; a Marine whose job it is to make riflemen out of the recruits. To them, she is a shooting guru; but they would never guess that prior to joining the service Patino had never fired a weapon.

A Laredo, Texas native, Patino first developed her interest in shooting during recruit training, where she, like many Marines, fired a weapon for the first time in her life. It was not a natural experience for Patino, who struggled at first.

“In bootcamp, 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.”

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. She said there were a lot of “Teachbacks” during the course, where Marines had to memorize certain knowledge and teach it back to their instructors. Where other Marines struggled, 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 and was sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.  While training recruits, she noticed there were trends of female recruits not performing as well on the range as Patino felt they could. Utilizing her past 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.

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, with the backing of her leadership at 4th Recruit Training Battalion, was determined to excel at the job.

“I went through the course like any other Marine did,” Patino said. “There were Corporals, Sergeants, and I was the only Staff NCO, the only female, but I don’t think that altered anything. I was one of the only Marines who passed everything on the first try, so I like to think that showed my work ethic, not only as a person but as a Marine, not being a female or a Staff Sergeant.”

The transition from drill instructor to marksmanship instructor was a bit of a culture shock, Patino said. Her senior drill instructor trained her to be an aggressive leader, and her recruits knew it; but as a PMI, Patino realized she had to reel in her intensity for the sake of the recruits. They couldn’t be at the position of attention; they couldn’t yell back commands because it would alter their shooting negatively. Patino learned to drop the persona of the hard-nosed DI and relate to recruits on a personal level.

“I don’t see female or male Marines, I see the quality of a Marine and I put myself in their position,” said Patino, describing her teaching process.
“I don’t put on a persona for them and I tell them that I struggled and I got nervous. 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.”

Gunnery Sgt. Angelica Dixon, senior drill instructor for Platoon 4036, Oscar Company, and a close colleague of Patino’s said it was her passion for teaching that drove her to pursue becoming a PMI.

“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; even when we were all tired, she’d always move quickly and demanded a lot of her recruits.”

Dixon added that Patino’s drive for mentoring and coaching on the range opened the door for more female drill instructors to pursue becoming PMIs.

“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 continue as a PMI on Parris Island for the next four to seven months before returning to drill instructor duty, where 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,” she 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.”

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6 comments


  • Bobbie Jo Henry

    Read with strong interest both stories. Happy to learn about both Marines. Glad to be a part of our Marine Corps and know our family is strong and moving into future with enthusiasm and grace, Semper Fidelis SSgt Bobbie Jo Henry, W721219,’67-’70, MCB Quantico


  • Cpl. Joe Darinsig

    How greater that a dedicated Marine. Staff Sgt. Patino’s involvement on the range was very commendable. Gender has no line when qualifying on the rifle range. Your rifle is your life. I was in her same job classification as a marksmanship instructor in 1962-1964. Some years ago before women were involved in recruit training. I remember everything about by job (MOS) to this day. And still respect those who are doing this duty still.


  • buzz alpert, E-5 1960-66, Plt.152

    In the summer of 1960 at Parris Island on pre-qual day I fired 10 bulls at 500 yards prone. The range instructor for some damn reason took a dislike to me. I was a respectful young man and I never forgot my yes sirs, but he was on my butt constantly. I had been using firearms since I was 17 and I fired expert on pre-qual day. Instead of being pleased he was angry and said I had someone in the butts. I told him I did not and had no idea who was in the butts. I did not tell my DI’s about him. Next day was qualification. Again from past firearms experience I was doing okay and it looked like I would fire expert. On the kneeling position the range instructor ran up to me, bent over, and started screaming in my left ear. I didn’t know what to do so I tried to keep on firing and I was not shooting well with him carrying on as though he wanted me to do poorly. Sgt. Jimmy E. McCall, one of my junior DI’s came running up and forced the guy off me. Mac was tall, lean and strong, I know because he kicked, punched and slapped me enough times. I didn’t resent it and I may have deserved it, who knows after so many years later. But Mac threatened to kick this instructors butt and was all in his face. He said, “You stay away from my turd.” I didn’t see that range instructor ever again. He knew Mac meant nothing but business. I fired sharpshooter because I did so poorly on kneeling. Mac knew I could shoot and was counting on me to fire expert, but he never said a word to me about my failure to fire expert, but I felt like I’d let him down. I thought maybe the range guy was doing it so I would get used to shooting with lots of noise and pressure, but I was told that was not the case. He was just a jerk. As a recruit there wasn’t much I could do but tell him to leave me alone, but he was red in the face and screaming and as a boot I was at great disadvantage, if I threatened him. So I just stood down and thankfully Mac stopped it. On graduation day Sgt. McCall came looking for me. He wanted to tell me that he gave me ‘special attention’ because he thought I’d make a good Marine. Five years later he was assigned to the reserve center where I was at, but I didn’t know it. I was walking down the hall looking south and the sun was coming into my eyes through the glass front doors. All I could see was a silhouette walking toward me. I remember saying ‘that looks like Mac’. When he got up close I saw it was him and I still called him ‘Sir’. Hard to break habits that were beaten into you. I was an E-5 Sgt and he was still an E-5 Sgt. and I felt really bad that we were the same rank. He said, “Well, Sergeant you’ve done pretty well for yourself.” I said I’ve just been lucky, Sir. We became good friends and talked a lot about those days at PI. Within a year my enlistment was up, but my old man was dying and I had to take over the family business, which I hated, because my mom had to be supported. I really wanted to remain in the reserves, but if I got activated at that point there would be no one to take care of my mom or to support her. I no sooner was discharged and my old man died. 30 years later I wrote Sgt. McCall, through the commandant, a letter of thank you for all he did for me. I never got a response, but I just hope he got my note of gratitude. He made a man out of me and I am forever thankful to Mac and to the Marine Corps. Mac went to Nam and made captain. I found out through another Marine, whom I met through this website, that Mac had passed away a few years ago. He was only 3 years older than me God bless our Corps and our country—-and our president. Semper Fi to all the men and women of the Marine Corps.


  • Cp. William Reed; ’66-’69

    Having shot small bore (22 LR) in De Molay competitions and had many trophies to prove it, the range was a snap & I qualified Expert. It was my favorite part of Boot – except for the weekend between Snap-in and Qualifying where we did 12 straight hours of PT. I remember that that DI’s remained hard-nosed but the line instructors were very helpful.


  • Dale Barry

    Having shot before joining the Corps, I couldn’t understand the need for snapping in, positions, NPA and the rifle sling. In Nam as a marksman , I was interested in applying for the sniper school but couldn’t because I wore glasses and was a barely qualified rifleman. I remembered what my PMIs had taught me on my next stateside rifle qual, and shot expert in rifle and pistol every year thereafter. I still go back to remembering the basics in my hobby of competitive shooting to this day. I have coached many shooters since then, and work harder with those who refuse to accept instruction, because I started out that way too.


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