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Brother and Sister, Billy and Lily Membreno Paz, grew up in a tight-knit family dynamic in a family of seven. With strong El Salvadorian roots, they were surrounded by a depth of culture throughout their childhood that later influenced them to both choose to enlist into the Marine Corps. Shipping from RSS Decatur, both Billy and Lily arrived at Parris Island together, with the same goal in mind: Earn the Title of United States Marine. Training simultaneously in Bravo Company, the siblings used the motivation they found in each other and their family back home to not only earn the title, but excel in doing so. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jacqueline Akamelu)

Photo by Cpl. Jacqueline Akamelu

Siblings in Life, Siblings in Service

11 Jun 2024 | Cpl. Jacqueline Akamel Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island

“I would tell myself, ‘We started this together, so we’re going to finish this together’,” says PFC. Lily Membreno Paz, as she explains her experience the past 13 weeks, with her brother, Billy Membreno Paz, right by her side.

Raised in a strong El Salvadorian family, from father Evelio Membreno and mother Edith Paz, Lily and Billy Membreno Paz were surrounded by a tight-knit family dynamic. Two of five siblings, Billy and Lily are the middle siblings of their family, with two older siblings, Glenda (25) and Beibis (20), and one younger sister, Denali (6). Both born in Lewisburg, Virginia in 2005 and 2006, Billy (19) and Lily (18) are close in age and inseparable in life.

Though born in the United States, the two siblings spent five years with their grandparents in Cantón Guanaste in El Salvador. Throughout their time in the Central American country, the two grew remarkably close as siblings while also adopting the deep culture, learning about the agriculture the country is known for, and becoming fluent in Spanish.

“El Salvador is where our roots began. It’s where our parents [and] grandparents are from, and so on,” explains their sister, Glenda, “it was important for them to learn and understand our heritage as we were the first of our family to come and live in the United States.”

Following their return to the U.S., Billy and Lily lived with their family in Florence, AL. Over time, the two became acclimated to the culture change and became fluent in English early on, becoming equally bilingual. Throughout their childhood, their family grew throughout Treon, AL, and Athens, GA, as more of their aunts, uncles, and cousins slowly immigrated from El Salvador and relocated to the United States.

“When we get together, it’s like a party of close to 60 people,” expresses Lily, “and we’re all family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone.”

In August of 2023, their father Evelio received a phone call from U.S. Marine Corps recruiter, Staff Sgt. Charles Bagley. Billy, who recently graduated from high school, knew it was a chance to make his family proud and open various opportunities for his future. He also went on to mention the possibility of his sister showing an interest in also serving, the phone call opened the door for both siblings to join.

“Our initial plan was to go through all of the other branches and see our options,” explained Billy, “and the Marine Corps office was the first one we went to, but ever since the first time we visited, it just stuck and we stayed.”

With Lily in her senior year of high school, Staff Sgt.Bagley, explained that unless she completed her education and graduated early, it was unlikely they’d share the same ship date and go through recruit training together. With this in mind, Lily completed her senior year of high school 4 months early, on February 23, 2024, from Hatton High School. On March 4, 2024, both Billy and Lily shipped from RSS Decatur to MCRD Parris Island.

“[Lily] was juggling her job, was going to school as a full-time student, and was working toward her ASVAB test. She has such an incredible drive.,” expressed Glenda, “She [...] ended up even scoring the highest ASVAB score of her entire group”

Received for training by Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, the two trained in the same company, but separate platoons; Billy with platoon 1028 and Lily with platoon 1025.

“We didn’t know we were going to be this close to each other at all,” expressed Billy, “I thought my sister was going to be on the completely other side of [Parris Island], so it turned out better than what we expected.”

Training simultaneously in the same company allotted reassurance to both of them, as they were able to see each other in passing during various training events, or even have brief conversations during religious services offered on Sundays.

“It always reminded me,” explained Billy, “whenever I was doing the obstacle course or something, that I am responsible for pushing through and not getting hurt. We came this far, [...] we need to complete this together.”

Seeing each other, and knowing that their sibling was going through the same training, gave them a unique and optimistic perspective, even creating a healthy competition between each other. The Drill Instructors of their respective platoons learned early on about the siblings and would offer insight to them about the other and how they were doing in training, pushing them to continue to work hard and stay focused.

“We have a really healthy relationship with each other,” described Lily, “so it created a competitive environment for us with each other even though we didn’t write letters to one another.”

Both Billy and Lily faced similar struggles and adversity many recruits experienced throughout training.

“The [Marine Corps Martial Arts Program] environment and how it’s conducted,” describes Lily, “it felt very overwhelming and it was a struggle to remember all of the techniques.”

Billy explained that it was a struggle, at times, to keep up with the expectations placed on him, as he was assigned as a squad leader in his platoon from Forming Day 1.

Lily explained that she found her strong suit in being able to manage the chaos and pressure placed on her throughout training, eventually earning her the opportunity to be assigned as the platoon’s guide.

The largest motivation that they found for themselves throughout training was consistently that which they found in each other. Training at the same time pushed both siblings, inclining them both to perform exceptionally throughout their testing and qualifications. Both notably shot Expert on the rifle range, and performed at the first class level on both of their Physical Fitness Tests (PFT) and Combat Fitness Tests (CFT), with Billy running a perfect score (300) on his CFT.

“During the final PFT, when I was running the 3-mile run,” describes Lily, “I reached the halfway point and was so exhausted, and my knee wasn’t cooperating at the time, but I knew I had to push through and finish strong for my brother.”

As brother and sister, they entered recruit training with an exceptionally strong relationship with one another. With the memorable experiences they found on the depot, the respect and appreciation for each other has reached new heights.

“I knew that she was going through it right there with me and it pushed me to be better,” says Billy.

Following their completion of the Crucible on May 18, 2024, Lily was selected as the honor graduate for her platoon, and Billy was meritoriously promoted to Private First Class (PFC). Upon graduation on May 31, 2024, the Membreno Paz siblings’ next step will be reporting to the School of Infantry East, on Camp Geiger, N.C., following recruiter’s assistance with RSS Decatur.

“They are some of the finest I have been able to recruit for the Marine Corps,” expressed Staff Sgt. Bagley, “[They’re people] who strive for excellence in everything and have such a strong family and foundation. They’re going to go so far.”

Billy intends to serve in the Military Occupation Specialty as an Automotive Maintenance Technician, 3521, and Lily as an Aviation Ordnance Systems Technician, 6541.

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Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island