Friday, July 27, 2012

Sergeants Course empowers, challenges future of Corps 

Every day, sergeants shoulder the responsibility of leading and improving their junior Marines. One way sergeants improve themselves as the backbone of the Corps is through Sergeants Course.

I graduated from Sergeants Course Class 4-12 at Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton June 12, 2012. After my time spent attending the course, I now believe it is crucial for all sergeants to attend and not just to be professional military education complete. It’s crucial for the simple fact that like a doctor or lawyer spends years perfecting their trade, sergeants must study in a structured environment to cultivate learning to benefit future leathernecks.

For roughly seven weeks, more than 100 sergeants and I studied and learned a range of subjects, including military history, counseling, administrative procedures and combat operations.

Joining me were sergeants who came from a wide variety of Military Occupational Specialties. Administrative specialists, mortarmen, crew chiefs and parachute riggers were among the sergeants seeking to advance their careers. Some Marines became sergeants less than a year ago, just starting their second enlistment. There were others who had left the Corps and returned with broken time, such as one sergeant whohad served during Operation Desert Storm. Each of their ribbon racks told a unique story.
 The diverse groups of sergeants provided fresh perspectives and new ways to handle tasks and duties, whether it be conducting physical training or counseling Marines. Often during class, sergeants would voice their opinions and share their experiences.

The class was divided into six platoons, each led by a staff sergeant serving as a faculty advisor, or FA, the equivalent of a teacher or instructor. Their primary responsibilities primarily were teaching classes and guided discussions on issues all noncommissioned officers face.
Each day began with physical training led by the staff or the students. A majority of the PT sessions involved running, and strength training. Concluding PT, we received our lessons from FA’s inside an auditorium or as platoons in classrooms.
We often did homework, writing essays on the Corps valiant NCO’s, reading course books late into the night and answering scenario based questions. All these assignments covered combat leadership, integrity and mentoring subordinates. Infantry Marines who are used to making fire-plan sketches and creating patrol orders will be familiar with this curriculum to an extent. The essay writing I found straightforward, mainly due my background as a combat correspondent.
   “A lot of Marines tend to forget basic knowledge,” said Staff Sgt. Luis Figueroa, faculty advisor of 2nd Platoon, Sergeants Course, SNCOA Camp Pendleton.  “Even though you may be a combat engineer, you are ultimately still a Marine and that entails a lot of things: from the traditions that we have to the basic skills, from performing drill to knowing how to disassemble a M240B, land navigation to learning how to write up awards. Those are things that pertain to every occupation. Not just a specific one. Eventually you will have to touch an aspect of what we teach here.”
The course had to cover all the basics. Many of us needed to be educated on combat fundamentals regardless of our MOS. I, being a non-infantry Marine, really benefited from the infantry-based training. Creating patrol orders, learning how to call for fire and leading a patrol served as sobering reminders of the responsibilities sergeants face in war.
The education not only benefits us but also the academy, with many sergeants providing insight on their own experiences during class. 
 “Every cycle, it doesn’t matter what your rank is, knowledge knows no rank,” said Figueroa. “A [NCO] can teach a [SNCO] something new and vice versa. Every cycle I learn something new whether it is Military Occupational Specialty related or just Marine Corps knowledge in general. Just because you are a sergeant doesn’t mean you can’t teach me something new, just as sergeants learn from their peers.”
In addition to FA led classes, we also had visiting civilian professionals give us lessons on nutrition, Tricare, the base counseling center, and many others. The information presented to us came with a two-fold purpose. The information is for our benefit and for us to take the information and impart it onto our Marines. This will empower the junior Marines to get help where they need it.
We learned about time honored traditions such as Mess Night, an evening dinner with set customs and courtesies. There were some sergeants who had never been part of a formal Mess Night. We convened our own Mess Night, practicing how to toast, behave and follow more than 70 years of tradition. It was a fun time, something that reminded me of how we all have a big role in passing on those customs.
Near the end of the course, we were tested on our warfighting knowledge with a culminating event. One day of patrolling combined with battlefield scenarios tested platoons of 20 Marines individually and collectively.
            “I whole heartedly believe our sergeants are among the best in the world,” said Sgt. Maj. Walter C. Baldwin, director of SNCOA Camp Pendleton and Marine of 29 years. “Marines hold themselves to a different standard. We offer the challenge, ‘Can you become one of us?’ We aggressively seek that person wanting a challenge. In general, Marines are coming in better educated than they used to. We are making a better educated force, mainly because we’ve increased our standards. This course creates a better rounded Marine returning to their unit.”
            We attended Sergeants Course with our own reasons. Some came to fill a check in the box. Others came to seek information never before taught to them. One constant for all of us is that we return to our respective units armed with resources and a wealth of knowledge to utilize.
“It’s a relief to graduate,” said Sgt. Nick Reineke, a Sergeants Course student with 1st Platoon, Class 4-12. “I learned so much about the Performance Evaluation System, promotion and small details some leaders might forget to hit. It’s good for every sergeant, especially early in their grade. Basically because it gives you the tools to perform as a sergeant right away, instead of learning slowly as years go by.”
            What will happen as the Marine Corps shifts their focus from fighting in Afghanistan to preparing for the next fight? Already Marine Corps Training and Education Command is adjusting its standards and requirements for the drawdown and times ahead.
“Sergeants Course will have more required reading, articles and peer discussion among themselves,” said Baldwin.  “You will also see ethical decision making and leadership ethics woven into it too.”
We sergeants now serve in a climate not experienced since our brothers returned from   Vietnam more than 40 years ago. Those of us who stay Marine need this Course to make us more eligible for promotion. It’s time for us to choose to either leave the Corps as it shrinks, or stay in and prepare ourselves for the next unknown threat. No matter how the Corps changes, sergeants will still shoulder the responsibility of training their junior Marines for the next fight. We will continue to pass on our skills gained from experience in a time of war.
I believe the role as backbone sums up the NCO and especially the sergeant. Like a spine, we must be flexible enough to stay mobile, rigid enough to remain unwavering, straight and upright to support the requirements of those above and never fail the needs of those below as sergeants of Marines.

‘Fighting 13th’ Marines, Sailors join Anaheim for Independence Day

 ANAHEIM, Calif. - Marines and Sailors from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit marched down East Santa Anna Canyon Road, with the community of Anaheim for their Independence Day Parade, July 4, 2012.

The ‘Fighting 13th’ Color Guard and a platoon-size formation of Marines were led by Col. Christopher D. Taylor, commanding officer of the 13th MEU and Grand Marshall of the Parade.
“Today was a great way for us to show solidarity with our home community of Anaheim,” said Taylor. “The Marines looked exceptional here today. The Parade is a perfect opportunity to show the City of Anaheim, the ancestors of those who helped make this a free country, and these Marines will keep it free. I’d like to express our gratitude as well to the City, our 13th MEU Adoption Committee, Mayor Tom Tait and the council members who’ve opened their doors to us and been so generous.”
As the Marines marched down the mile-long parade route children smiled and waved flags and families clapped and cheered.
        “I’m glad to be out here,” said McKay Engh, a 17-year-old resident of Anaheim who is planning to enlist into the Marines next year. “It’s pretty cool seeing them march. These guys look sharp and are a perfect example of America’s finest.”

Some Marines brought their families to the parade and afterward joined them at Peralta Canyon Park where they relaxed with some barbequed food and local hospitality.
“I’m excited and glad to have my wife with me here today,” said Lance Cpl. Charles Sims, an intelligence systems administrator with the 13th MEU. “I felt proud to be marching out here. The residents here have been very gracious. The parade and meeting the citizens of Anaheim was the highlight of our day. It’s also great to see everyone out here reminding me of what we are fighting for.”
The City of Anaheim adopted the Unit in October 2007 and its Adoption Committee has since supported the MEU in numerous ways including, gift baskets for new parents, ball fundraising and their annual Christmas party. The ‘Fighting 13th’ will begin preparing for deployment later this summer as a force in readiness of seagoing Marines.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prestigious Copernicus Award awarded to 13th MEU Assistant CommO

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - During the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s seven-month deployment last year, the Command Element Communications Section worked relentlessly to ensure the constant flow of information between three ships hundreds of nautical miles apart.

This hard work did not go unnoticed. On January 24, 2012 the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) and U.S. Naval Institute recognized Capt. Gregory A. Lizak, assistant communications officer, Command Element, 13th MEU, I Marine Expeditionary Force, with the 2011 Copernicus Award. The award recognizes him for his outstanding leadership, highly advanced technical expertise, and visionary approach to communications employment that significantly enhanced the combat effectiveness of the 13th MEU and Marine Corps-wide communications initiatives. “I feel surprised,” said Lizak, who hails from Belmont, Calif. “It’s a big deal in our community to win this award. There’s tough competition and a lot of important people in our field.”

He accepted the award at the San Diego Convention Center, among his peers in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The award honors service members from those three services for accomplishments in specific and demonstrable contribution to the advancement of command and control, computing and communications, intelligence and information systems and information warfare. The contributions demonstrate exceptional initiative, leadership and insight within the nominee's area of expertise.

Maj. Noah Komnick, communications officer, 13th MEU, and prior Copernicus award recipient, submitted the nomination for Lizak.

“Probably one of the biggest reasons [I submitted his name] is the work he did with the San Antonio Class of ships,” said Komnick. “The 13th MEU did things with that class of ship that set the precedent for other San Antonio (LPD-17) Class ships that they wouldn’t normally or as easily get, in regards to new technologies being installed. We were the first ones to install [the new technology] on the USS Green Bay (LPD-20). Other MEU’s that now go out in LPD-17 Class ships can reference all the paperwork and pull up the engineering drawings and all the top site studies that’s been done. All the data and communication infrastructure installed greatly helped during our deployment.”

“Bigger picture wise, it helps other MEU’s because they’re not going to have much of a challenge to get the same things installed on their LPD ships because they’ll be able to reference the fact that Navy already approved it for the Green Bay,” concluded Komnick.

Lizak also led the integration of Adaptive Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2) with current Marine Air-Ground Task Force infrastructure, pioneering the first deployment of ANW2 with MEU operations in U.S. Central Command. Lastly, he led the operational testing and successful operational employment of two new narrowband communication technologies never before employed by a deployed MEU.

“He’s very detailed in what he does,” said Sgt. Cristobal D. Osoria, transmissions chief with the Communications Section, Command Element, 13th MEU, I MEF. “He knows how everything should be but he has a very keen understanding to the dynamics and the fluidity of how we operate on a MEU, on ship and shore. He understands the expeditionary nature of our work. He’s also very knowledgeable of the gear we use and he employs us to the best of our abilities and ensures we get the job done.”

His drive for consistent and reliable communication derives from his experiences on previous deployments. In Iraq 2006 through 2007, as a young first lieutenant, Lizak was faced with the realities of combat and the need to adapt as a leader and communications officer.

“They push you a little harder there,” he said with a serious tone. “With the infantry Marines, even if you’re not an infantry guy, you have to think like one. Because you are so intertwined with what they are doing and seeing them go on patrol in different places and having to support them. Knowing that they live or die based on communications my Marines set up, it had a profound impact on me compared to other things I have done in my career.”

The AFCEA established the award in 1997. The name for the award came from the Copernicus Architecture used as the blueprint for the future C4I structure of the Navy. Recipients are selected based on their sustained superior performance in a C4I/IT-related job. The selections are made each year by Navy judges who review applications from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, including civilians. AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute present the awards at their annual Western Conference held in San Diego each winter.

Lizak has been selected for promotion to the rank of major and will move to a new duty station this year. Through Lizak’s work and dedication, the 13th MEU and other MEU’s throughout the Corps can better operate and communicate as they support and defend the United States as expeditionary warriors at sea.

“I’ve never had a communications officer like him,” finished Osoria. “He takes care of us and that’s not much more than we can ask of him.