MCAS IWAKUNI, Japan -- Officers come into the military as civilians directly from college, from one of the service academies or directly from the enlisted ranks.
Those promoted from the enlisted ranks often finish their degrees in their spare time while continuing their regular duties, and usually hold the rank of E-5 or below.
The same cannot be said for Ensign Noel Fontanilla, a 15-year Navy veteran recently promoted to his new rank from senior chief petty officer during a ceremony at Club Iwakuni. Fontanilla holds a degree in Business Administration from the University of the East and was selected as a Limited Duty Officer in February 2000.
"It's a wonderful feeling," said Fontanilla of his promotion. "To be surrounded here by family, friends and the men and women I serve with is truly an honor on this special day."
The Manila native enlisted in the Navy in 1986, and recounted his first night aboard a ship during his promotion ceremony speech.
"I remember all the horror stories I had heard about life at sea," said Fontanilla. "That first night, I kept to myself and tried to keep a low profile. I just wanted to make it through the night. In the morning I was still alive and realized I was going to be just fine."
That might have been the understatement of his career.
"Ensign Fontanilla has been a model Sailor throughout his entire career, always striving to better himself and those around him," said Navy Lt. Mark Axinto, guest speaker at the promotion ceremony. "He has been an outstanding leader in the enlisted ranks and will make an outstanding officer."
After the pinning of his new rank, Fontanilla was given his first salute as a Naval Officer by Chief Petty Officer Robert Bugawan, storage division officer and ceremony attendee.
"To see him exchange that first salute as an officer, after so many years in the enlisted ranks, was one of the highlights of the day," said Petty Officer 2nd class Demetrio Kalaw, GSA Mart supervisor and ceremony attendee.
"Everyone who has served with him is proud to be able to say they have. He is a credit to the Navy and the armed services," he said.
Fontanilla, who has worn various hats since coming to Iwakuni in 1996, including Shipping and Receiving and Material Leading Chief Petty Officer, Stock Control and Purchasing Division officer and collateral duty Command Senior Chief, is now headed to the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, Ga.
"It's another challenge that I look forward to," said Fontanilla. "I always have tried to look ahead during my Navy career. Whether it's a big step or a small step, you?ve got to look forward toward the future."
Even if it means just getting through a long first night aboard a ship, Fontanilla has always seemed to do just that.