CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
When a senior Marine refers to one of his devil dogs as the most “Marine” Marine under his charge, a person reaching 5 feet 1 inch and shy of 100 pounds is probably not the visual.
Nonetheless, Lance Cpl. Samantha C. Catoe, a data network specialist working at the headquarters element of Task Force Leatherneck, 1st Marine Division (Forward), was given that title by her supervisor, Staff Sgt. Donald T. Jones.
Catoe, a 21-year-old native of Irmo, S.C., said she believes she earned the reference by being respectful, professional, excellent at her job and enthusiastic about her current assignment in Afghanistan.
“She’s been giving it all she has,” said Jones, the date chief for Task Force Leatherneck. “She’s the lead Marine on the server build team. It requires someone who’s technically proficient and she’s got the technical knowledge.”
She currently works the night shift at the Task Force Leatherneck communications section (G-6) Helpdesk, taking on tasks that range from answering calls of assistance with inoperative computers used by 1st MarDiv (Fwd) personnel, to building and refurbishing client servers.
Catoe said her job is really customer service-oriented and very satisfying. But although her work environment is behind friendly lines, her job can be rather chaotic when everyone in the 1st MarDiv (Fwd) compound is communicating by transmitting data.
“Communications, the servers and networking are essential to the mission,” Catoe said. “We work at a high echelon. If the commanding general’s computer goes down, it’s a major deal. If connectivity in the combat operations center goes down, which has computers among computers in there, it’s a huge deal.”
Still, she thrives at her job, keeping communications between coalition forces in Helmand province running.
Her nightly shift begins behind a desk built by Marine engineers in a warehouse lined with wooden walls, tucked in a corner of the division compound. Just as most people working “behind the scenes” at Camp Leatherneck have stacks of papers on their desks, she has stacks of laptops and hard drives that need her expertise.
A couple dozen red wires streaming across the ceiling into a cold climate server room offer a sci-fi décor to the helpdesk hut. But there’s nothing fictional to Catoe’s responsibility of working with equipment worth millions of dollars. Her duties of troubleshooting and fixing network problems even extend to forward operating bases throughout Helmand province.
“People sometimes have issues talking from unit to unit, and we at the help desk will walk them through fixing it,” she said. “Except for Marines who are out on patrols, no one really communicates over radios anymore. Without computers, the units out there wouldn’t be able to coordinate missions or monitor operations.”
Excelling at her job only compliments what she’s done for herself during her two years as a Marine.
With first class combat and physical fitness test scores, high biannual personal evaluation points and certificates from Marine Corps self-education courses in her personal record, she received recognition by her command here. Catoe was selected as this period’s Marine of the Quarter for Headquarters Detachment, 1st MarDiv (Fwd), for qualities that sets her apart from fellow competing peers.
“It was a close call and it came down to scores on her service record book,” said 1st Sgt. Sean Hyman, the Headquarters Detachment first sergeant and a native of Little Rock, Ark. “The first thing you’ll notice about her is that she’s a small individual, but her personality speaks differently. You would know Catoe by her actions.”
The recognition began with Marines who directly supervise her, but she said she also owes the distinguished reputation to her own self-motivation.
“I had good scores, and I worked really hard for those scores,” Catoe’s said. “I’m not going to do something [at half effort]. If I’m going to do MCIs (Marine Corps Institute courses) I might as well do 12 of them. I want to look good as a Marine.”
Catoe is also scheduled for a promotion in rank in May. She said she came into the Marine Corps with an understanding of what her perseverance as a Marine means and how to generate it. Her mother served four years in the Corps, and her father retired after serving for 20 years as a Marine infantryman. The two met while serving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. – a place commonly known for where Marines are made.
After high school, Catoe, who rocked blue-dyed hair and several piercings in her ears at the time, continued her education in college studying computer science. However, she said she felt it was time to leave home after the first year.
She said the Marine Corps is something she never considered, let alone deploying to Afghanistan. But she became motivated after listening to a series of conversations between her former boyfriend and her father.
“My boyfriend at the time was going to join the army, but my dad talked him into joining the Marines,” Catoe said. “I started getting a little jealous so I wanted to join too.”
Typical of parents during a time of war, especially those who endured the challenging life of a Marine, Catoe said her parents tried to persuade her from enlisting and suggested finishing school and becoming a Marine officer.
She also faced a tough decision with her boyfriend.
“My boyfriend pretty much said ‘I won’t date you if you join,’” said Catoe.
Two years later and in Afghanistan, Catoe said she loves being a Marine. She knew what she wanted to do for the Marine Corps when she saw her recruiter in 2010, and she’s living up to that dream today.
“I love my job. I really do,” she said. “If you’re not building the network, you’re monitoring the network – monitoring all the user accounts, emails and any issues with their computers. It’s something I always really wanted to do.”
Some of Catoe’s fellow Marines said sometimes they find humor in their job – mostly with trouble tickets involving simple solutions that the common computer savvy person can figure out. Other times, her friends show brotherly-sisterly love by making light-hearted and welcomed jokes of her stature.
“I get called short and tiny. I kind of embrace it,” she said. “It kind of pushes me to do more. Yeah, I’m 98 pounds and I can do anything anyone else can in this job. A lot of my motivation comes from people who don’t expect it from me.”
Work and motivation is continuous in the helpdesk hut. As Marines and coalition forces in Afghanistan begin to consolidate into new battle positions and turn bases over to Afghan forces, computer networks need rebuilding, said Catoe. Her return to her home station, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., is something she doesn’t think about right now, as she focuses her priorities on trouble tickets and building servers.
“The most satisfying part of the job is working for the Marines,” Catoe said. “They’re usually really grateful about our help, and it’s a good feeling.”