AL ASAD, Iraq -- "Generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war, in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security."
These words, written several generations of Marines ago by Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, describe with uncanny accuracy the service one proud warrior with Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, has given to his country and Corps over a career spanning 30 years.
Sgt. Maj. Abelardo Flores passed his position as Group sergeant major to Sgt. Maj. Brian K. Jackson during a post and relief ceremony at Al Asad, Iraq, April 29.
"Sgt. Maj. Flores has been a tremendous asset to me, but not just to me, to the entire unit and to the Marines. His leadership and steadfast performance is without peer and what we expect from the best of our best sergeants major," said Col. Guy M. Close, commanding officer, MAG-16. "I have never hesitated to go to him for advice or council on any issue. We have a strong working relationship, and I would hope 10 years from now, we'll still share e-mails and phone calls."
According to Flores, being deployed alongside Marines at the twilight of his career, to secure the freedom and safety of his fellow Americans, is the best possible way to go out.
"I think being deployed for my last tour is a great way to finish, it's the ultimate thing for us. Marines joined the Marine Corps to do things like this," said Flores, a Carrizo Springs, Texas, native. "We didn't join the Marine Corps to stay home and vegetate. We enlisted in the Marine Corps to keep our country free and keep harm from coming to it. So what better way of finishing out a career than deploying with your Marines. Not too many can say that."
Deployments have been a part of Flores' career since his enlistment in 1976. After boot camp, Flores was trained as a rifleman and then traveled halfway across the world to Okinawa, Japan. Assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, he participated in his first unit deployment. This became a recurring theme while assigned to infantry units throughout the years.
"The toughest part of the Marine Corps, was leaving my family when I went on deployment. There have been a lot of those," said Flores. "My wife has been alongside me the whole time though, she has been my support and has propped me up. Having been married for so long, people say that it gets easier each time you deploy, but it doesn't get easier."
Taking his nine years of field experience back to the Midwest, Flores was ordered to Marine Recruiting Station Detroit, Michigan, in 1985, and was assigned as a canvassing recruiter and noncommissioned officer-in-charge for Recruiting Station Southgate.
After three years of finding future Marines in Michigan, Flores returned to his fellow grunts with the 2nd Marine Division and deployed twice more to Japan.
In 1990, Flores deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and was assigned duties as a company gunnery sergeant. Prior to the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, he assumed the duties as company first sergeant for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
After returning from the Middle East, Flores was assigned to Marine units up and down the East Coast.
In 1999, having risen through the enlisted ranks from private to sergeant major, Flores began his Marine journey west. Back with Marine Corps Recruiting Command, he was ordered to Marine Corps Recruiting Station Denver, Colo., and assigned as the station sergeant major.
"I first met (Flores), when I was the sergeant major for Marine Air Control Squadron 23 in Aurora, Colo., and he was the RS Denver sergeant major," said Sgt. Maj. Louis M. Espinal, sergeant major, 3rd MAW, (Fwd). "He is a true professional, someone who is loyal to our cause, someone who gave 100 percent of himself to the Corps for 30 years."
Having been enlisted in the Marine Corps for 26 years himself, Espinal reflected on why someone would devote 30 years to the Marine mission.
"When you first enlist, it's for 3 to 4 years. Then you pick up the ranks of corporal and sergeant, and you start seeing yourself as a stockholder in the Marine Corps. You are now a policymaker and decide what's best for the Corps," said Espinal, a New York City, native. "Once you develop that frame of mind, you understand why Marines make a career of it."
Following his assignment in Denver, Flores was ordered to Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, where he served as the squadron sergeant major under the command of Lt. Col. Michael G. Dana.
"Sgt. Maj. Flores was and is the total Marine; he was everything a commander wants in a sergeant major. He was smart, physically fit, demanding, yet fair. He held himself to very high standards and instilled that same sense of professionalism in our Marines," said Dana, an Oneida, N.Y., native, and currently the commanding officer of Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced). "It is because of men like Sgt. Maj. Flores that the Marine Corps is what it is today; the finest fighting force on the planet. His dedication, discipline and enthusiasm for our Corps have benefited Marines for three decades."
While assigned to a Marine Aviation unit for the first time, Flores quickly returned to familiar desert territory when he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom February 2003. After returning to the United States late that year, Flores was soon thereafter assigned to MAG-16 as the Group sergeant major, a billet that brought him back to Iraq.
After successfully guiding the Group Marines through most of 2004 and early 2005, Flores and the rest of MAG-16 returned to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in February 2005.
Now back in Al Asad, Iraq, on his third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Flores is set to return to his family after leading the Group's Marines through the first three months of their year-long tour of duty.
"The Marine Corps is losing an icon as far as I am concerned. In my nearly 27 years of service, he is, without question, the best sergeant major I have seen," said Close, a Wellsboro, Pa., native. "He is compassionate, forthright and epitomizes what it means to lead, mentor and set the example for Marines, soldiers and sailors who are engaged in a noble, righteous and difficult cause. I am not embarrassed to say that it will be an emotional day for me when he leaves. He has been with me for my entire command, to include 16 months in Iraq and our reconstitution time in Miramar. Sgt. Maj. Flores will be a tough act to follow, but I have tremendous faith and confidence in Sgt. Maj. Jackson. I know he will carry on the legacy of Sgt. Maj. Flores and be a tremendous sergeant major for MAG-16."
With less than two weeks left in Iraq, Flores continues his duties without rest, commenting that leading Marines was the most rewarding part of his career.
"One of the best things I have seen throughout my years is my younger Marines' progress. Now, some are first sergeants and even a few sergeants major," said Flores. "That's the most rewarding part, watching them grow, even the ones who stay in for just four years. I had a part in that, always pushing them."
Speaking about being a Marine, Flores had a clear message for those who will carry on after he is gone from the ranks.
"Always do the best job you can possibly do," stated Flores. "You know what needs to be done, just do it. You don't have to be reminded. We all know what is right from wrong. We get taught that from day one in boot camp."