CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
Staff Sgt. Michael D. Sanford, the airframes staff noncommissioned officer in charge for Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, has overcome numerous hardships and accomplished countless goals throughout his career.
Before his military career began, Sanford made a decent living in a factory in Las Vegas, but he was not satisfied.
“My job was good, but it wasn’t working. I wasn’t getting any valuable experience from it,” said Sanford. “I wanted something more and I got tired of it. I knew I had potential.”
The 22-year-old decided to start his quest for self-improvement by stepping aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
“I loved the camaraderie, discipline and self worth that [recruit training] instilled in me,” said Sanford, while recalling his distant past as a recruit. “The feeling of walking tall and dignified felt good.”
Recruit training left a long-lasting impression on the young, chiseled Marine.
“The way the drill instructors could get more than 100 recruits from one place to another amazed me,” said Sanford. “I knew at that point I wanted to wear that smoky bear.”
Although Sanford gained the discipline and the new direction he desired, his journey in the Corps was only beginning. Sanford went on to learn the fundamentals of an airframe mechanic for the CH-53E “Super Stallion.”
Sanford, a veteran of five deployments including tours with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, decided to fulfill his dream of becoming a drill instructor.
Unfortunately for the anxious and motivated Marine, after getting accepted into Drill Instructor School, Sanford was severely injured in a football game.
“The weekend before I had to report, I blew out my knee,” said Sanford. “I tore my anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral and meniscus, it took six months of rehabilitation without surgery to recover 100 percent.”
It was a trying period of recovery for the strong-willed Marine. He was out of the fight the whole time.
“It was a frustrating time because I didn’t go to the drill field, as I had envisioned, or into combat,” said Sanford, disheartened. “I wanted to be out their in Iraq with my Marines, instead I was rehabbing.”
Sanford soon returned to the fight in good health and immediately deployed with the “Warhorse” on the 31st MEU.
“It felt like a pretty good milestone by recovering without surgery,” said Sanford. “It’s like I turned a page in my Marine Corps career.”
Because of his experience and leadership, Sanford has become a role model to his young Marines.
“Staff Sergeant Sanford takes care of his Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Palanka R. Roumer, an airframe mechanic for the Warhorse, who deployed with Sanford on the 31st MEU. “When it comes down to it, Sanford is an effective leader and will have your back.”
After 11 years with the Warhorse, Sanford has accomplished most of his goals and still plans to train recruits.
“When that time comes, I’m going to be choked up,” said Sanford, while envisioning himself wearing that campaign cover for the first time. “After that I’ll be ready to hit the pavement and set up the starboard side minigrinder.”