MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
Although every rank in the Marine Corps is vital to mission accomplishment, one rank in particular plays the largest role in the development of Marines junior to them and building future leaders – the sergeant.
Many traits must be cultivated to embody what it means to be a sergeant.
“The rank insignia itself does not cause a Marine to become a sergeant,” said Gunnery Sgt. Adam N. Davison, a faculty advisor with sergeants course aboard Marine Corps Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., and a Bremerton, Wash., native. “The state of mind and the actions that come from the individual Marine is what defines them as a sergeant. A sergeant is reliable, responsible, dedicated and knowledgeable. It is a unique rank in which you are no longer a junior Marine nor are you a senior Marine. The sergeant will know his Marines more in depth than the SNCO or officer within a unit and is capable of identifying and correcting deficiencies and strengths. In my belief, the sergeants of the Marine Corps are the driving effort in each and every success we as a Marine Corps have had.”
The sergeant holds the power to directly train and work with the Marines. These leaders are charged with the personal and professional development of each Marine under their supervision.
“As a sergeant, it’s my duty to know my Marines and how best to train them,” said Sgt. Daniel L. Asuncion, an aviation ordnance technician with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11 and a Guam native. “It’s my privilege to lead and learn about my Marines in every way possible, their hobbies, likes, dislikes and even where they go after they finish working for the day. If I know a certain Marine doesn’t like to be talked to a certain way or learns differently from the other Marines, I can tailor the training so they learn the most they can.”
Asuncion leads 14 Marines in his work place alone, but as a sergeant, he has the potential to affect many more. He mentors, leads, works and trains with his subordinates. He leads his men by example and through his own experiences.
“I was in their shoes once,” said Asuncion. “I was a private first class and a lance corporal at one time, so I’ve been where they are now and have gone through some of the things they have. I was married once as well so I can relate to both my single and married Marines to give them any advice or guidance they might need. All of these things I have been through make me a better leader and mentor for my Marines.”
Staff noncommissioned officers may have worn the same ranks as their junior Marines at one point, but a gap still exists from their time as junior Marines and the newest generation. This is where the sergeant comes to play as the generational link, not too old, but not too new – experienced and fresh.
“As a gunnery sergeant I try to be approachable, but at the same time the Marines won’t come and talk to me, they go to the sergeants,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Norris, the squadron gunnery sergeant with MALS-11 and a Springfield, Ohio native. “In a way, the sergeant is the first line of defense for the junior Marines. They work with them every day, they train with them and they may even be in some of the same places after they finish working. They can be the first person to see something and stop it or correct it for that Marine and by extension, me.”
To Norris, a Marine since 1997, a great sergeant is not just one who can put a tight uniform on in the morning, runs a perfect physical fitness test, or invests all their time on themselves.
“A great sergeant is a well rounded [NCO],” said Norris. “A great sergeant is one who makes themselves better through making their Marines better. Advice I could give on how to be a great sergeant would be to take the Marines to work out with you. Show them what you’re doing because obviously it’s working. Endeavor to know your Marines and be able to teach them and talk to them in the most effective way possible. Don’t just be the sergeant who can be a junior Marine’s best ally but his worst enemy when the time comes, because the Marines will see that and appreciate you for it.”
Not only do these sergeants of Marines work with the junior Marines at a personal level, they hold billets where they can be responsible for hundreds of Marines welfare and future.
“As a training representative for the avionics division with the squadron I have about 200 Marines I look out for administratively and when they need training,” said Sgt. Leah Stewart, the training noncommissioned officer for MALS-11 avionics division and a La Grange, Ky., native. “I handle monthly maintenance plans, file reports and then take care of Marine training and occupational training as well.
Both the junior Marines and her superiors look to Stewart to ensure the 200 Marines whose careers are in her hands are secure on her end, according to Stewart.
In order to accomplish these missions, Stewart must interact with higher ranking Marines and officers.
“Every day I work with a gunnery sergeant, master sergeant, master gunnery sergeant, a captain and a chief warrant officer 2,” said Stewart. “Every day I have to talk to them to have Marines checked in and out, and to have paperwork signed for the Marines to be taken care of. Speaking from experience, a lot of junior Marines aren’t comfortable speaking to a captain. They get too nervous and wouldn’t be able to accomplish the mission if they couldn’t get over their fear. It’s easiest if they have someone more experienced and confident as that link between the junior and senior Marines.”
Having a sergeant as this link is crucial, explained Stewart
“If there is someone there, like a sergeant, to stand in the gap between these two entities, to express what needs done for both sides the mission is accomplished,” said Stewart. “The junior Marines feel comfortable speaking to me about their needs and the senior Marines respect my opinion and have faith in me to get the job done, and done right.”
When acting as this link, sergeants must take the orders of the officers and higher enlisted and make them understandable and accomplishable for junior Marines.
“The sergeants take the commander’s intent; break it down into manageable tasks for the Marines and get the job done,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin Champaigne, the assistant avionics officer with the logistics squadron and a Mobile, Ala., native. “It’s like they take the fire hose of knowledge and tasking that we give to them and filter it into a manageable fountain. Without sergeants we don’t have the capability to take intent, put it into action, enforce it and ultimately be successful.”
As a former sergeant, Champaigne knows how crucial these leaders of Marines can be.
“At The Basic School officers have sergeants there teaching them and with them in the field,” said Champaign. “I think most junior officers learn that the sergeant is the last subject matter expert that hasn’t become an administrator yet, they’re out there with the Marines ensuring they are doing what they are supposed to. They help ensure the Marines don’t forget what the mission is or forget what it means to be a Marine. Without a sergeant, the job might still be completed, but I don’t know that if the sergeants were gone that it would be done smoothly or that our personalities as Marines would be fostered the way that it has been and the way that it will continue to be, because we have them.”
The spectrum of those affected by sergeants ranges from private to general, these dedicated Marines continue to foster what it means to be a Marine while passing their knowledge and experience to the newest generation of Marines in their beloved Marine Corps.
“More than anything my sergeant has been there for me whenever I needed him,” said Lance Cpl. Chad Zibilich, an aviation electronics technician with the logistics squadron and a New Orleans native. “Whether it was Marine Corps or work related, even personally he either had the answers already or did everything in his power to find one for me. I’ve learned more from my sergeants than I have from anyone else.”
No longer a junior, not quite a senior, but in the center where they are needed most; sergeants have the power to mold and shape the Marine Corps in ways only they can.