State of the NCO Corps August 2013
Let’s head on over to the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO Club, where the reserved parking slots are enforced by command detonated mines, and, in hindsight, that little drinking game we played during the broadcast of the International Muster (every time an enlisted Marine gets mentioned, down a shot of that cheap Arkellian tequila we‘ve been trying to get rid of for years) may not have been such a good idea after all, but at least we finally got that MP butterbar down from the flagpole.
I must confess that I may have even cracked a smile as the names of so many enlisted members of the SFMC were read out this year. As a fair warning, I intend to pretty much mention all of them, so this report may require a second cup of the caffeinated beverage of your choice to get through.
For the past six years, I have had the privilege of awarding the Star of Honor (NCO of the Year) to enlisted Marines nominated as the best that the NCO Corps has to offer. It’s always a tight race, and this year was no exception, but SGM Mark Polanis of the 1st Brigade emerged as the winner. His fine work at TRACOM is generally known, but what you may not know is all the other work he does behind the scenes at the unit, battalion, and brigade levels, his work in recruiting and retention, and his steadfast and fervent support of the SFMC NCO Corps in many ways.
Turning to the Cadet Star of Honor, there were two awarded this year. Cadet Honor awards are separated by age categories, with a larger number indicating an older cadet, and each age category may be given an award. Noah Cook of the 2nd Brigade was recently promoted to CDT 2LT, but his work as a cadet NCO earned him the Grade 4 award. This high school ROTC member participated in a wide variety of community service efforts. Cadet SGT Edward Tunis IV of the 3rd Brigade was represented by a nomination that went into great detail about not only his community service activities, but his activities in school, and as an important member of his unit and his brigade. The nomination would have been impressive for any NCO, but when you take into account the fact the Marine is question is EIGHT years old … well, let’s just say I think the future of the Corps will be in capable hands.
SFMC NCOs are expected to take an active part in community service efforts, so it is with great pride that I note that this year’s Shield of Honor (SFMC Volunteer of the Year) went to SGM Brian Chappell of the 1st Brigade. SGM Chappell doesn’t live in a large city, but he still managed to average over 20 hours per month on various community service projects of all types, ranging from simply helping a member of his community with chores to volunteer work on behalf of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a host of projects at various local, state, and national levels. Wherever he sees a need for help, SGM Chappell seems to find a way to carve out a little time to do what he can to lend a hand.
CDT SGT Ben Mabbit of the 20th Brigade rounds out the Honor awards, winning both the Cadet Shield of Honor (Grade 2) and the Cadet Cross of Honor (Grade 2). This exceptional young Marine is very involved in his unit, and is noted for lending a hand wherever he can, beginning at home and going on from there. He even managed to find a way to combine something he does for fun with a community service endeavor when he participated in a karate challenge demo showing 1000 techniques that raised money for cancer research.
But, the list of awards announced at the International Muster for enlisted Marines didn’t end there. Let’s take a look at the rest of the awards (in order of precedence), with a note that if you‘d like to learn more about these awards, Section 8 (Awards) of the Marine Force Manual is a good place to start looking.
The STARFLEET Cross is unique among SFMC awards in that it is actually a STARFLEET award, given by the Commander, STARFLEET to members of the SFMC for exceptional service to the organization that we all belong to. This year, MGSGT John Kane and SGM Mark Polanis of the 1st Brigade, and SGM Marie Smith of the 20th Brigade were so honored. MGSGT Kane was also presented with the Commandant’s Meritorious Service Award for exceptional service to the STARFLEET Marines over an extended period of time at the highest levels of the Corps.
The SFMC Service Commendation is also given for service to the Corps over time, and SGM Polanis and SGM Smith were joined by 1SGT Phillip Muller of the 1st Brigade in receiving this distinction. The SFMC Achievement Award recognizes service to the Corps by performing a particular task or service to a high standard of excellence, and among those honored were SGM Smith, SGM Trenton Baum of the 3rd Brigade, GSGT Frank Stevens of the 5th Brigade, and former CPO (now 2LT) Marsha Beleigh of the 17th.
Last, but certainly not least, the ranks of the SFMC Academy’s elite Team Delta were increased by another enlisted Marine, with WO1 David May of the 3rd Brigade gaining the right to wear the black double knot attachment to his shoulder cord.
Now, at this point, my hat-tipping arm is getting a little worn out, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that each and every one of the award winners I’ve given a shout out to above got there because someone took the time and trouble to write up a nomination and get their name in front of the appropriate people so their good works could be recognized. They didn’t wait for the Other Guy to get the job done, and all those anonymous nominators deserve their own praise for getting the job done as well. Please join me in a massive collective “Bravo Zulu (well done)!” for all those concerned.
As reported at the International Muster (and in this report last month), a complete data set taken on 06/30/13 consisting of all STARFLEET member identified in the SFI Database as being part of the SFMC showed that enlisted Marines make up 23.5 percent of the total.
Please remember that not everybody listed in the unit, battalion, and brigade reports is shown in the database as a Marine, either active or reserve. Despite what some people think, it’s NOT a requirement for STARFLEET members that are part of SFMC units to be listed as a Marine in the database. So, the data dump almost assuredly missed some folks that could conceivably had a measurable impact on the totals. The 23.5 percent figure ONLY takes into account SFMC members who have a rank listed in the database. If you add in those people who have no rank listed , the numbers become:
Officers: 70.02 % Enlisted 21.54 % No Rank : 8.44 %
One could assume that “no rank” means “Recruit Private”, but that’s not a given. The lack of rank in the database could mean a new member, but it could also mean a long term member whose rank was never properly entered, or it may even be a database reporting error. Since there is no way of knowing from the data what “No rank” means, I chose to base the total sample and my percentages solely on those who have a rank listed. (In this case, no rank meant “no data”, making them an invalid member of the sample.)
In absolute terms, there were more enlisted members (grades E-1 to E-9, and WO-W5) than there were officers of “Flag rank” (Grade O-7 and above). The actual numbers for enlisted were 263, with 228 “Flag Rank” officers in the data set. If you wish to look at it another way, there are 250 STARFLEET Marines who can wear stripes on their uniforms (E-1 to E-9), and 157 who can wear stars (O-8 and above).
As a general, round number to use in planning purposes and discussion, it’s fairly safe to assume right now that, Corps wide, about one STARFLEET Marine in four holds an enlisted rank. Even the very worst case (adding in all those with “no rank” and assuming they are all officers) means just over one STARFLEET Marine in five holds an enlisted rank.
As always, the SFMC General Staff needs your input and ideas in order to properly do our jobs. Don’t hesitate to contact the appropriate GS member with your questions, comments and ideas. You can find all the email addresses at the SFMC website, and, of course, we monitor the Corps-l list, and the SFMC Facebook group.
Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. Given that the SFMC just issued its annual awards, it’s worth noting that last month, Staff Sergeant Clifford M. Wooldridge was recognized by the Military Times as the 2013 US Marine of the Year. It wasn’t the first such honor for the young weapons instructor who had been named the USO Marine of the Year in October of 2012. At that time, his company First Sergeant said “He’s one of my best instructors and a true professional.”
Wooldridge told the Marine Corps Times that his family was very happy and excited, and mentioned that he’d spent most of the day getting his uniform ready for the ceremony. Like most Marines, that uniform includes his decorations, which in his case are topped off by the Silver Star he was awarded for his actions on June 18 of 2010, while on service in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
Then a corporal, Wooldridge was serving as a vehicle commander in a mounted patrol from the Weapons Company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. His day had started off bad and gone downhill from there. The Weapons Company had barely left the secured perimeter when his vehicle ran afoul of an improvised explosive device. Nobody was seriously hurt, but Wooldridge and his men had to transfer to another vehicle … which soon ran into another IED. Still, the crew was alive, and after transferring to yet another vehicle, the Corporal probably figured it couldn’t get much worse. He was wrong.
His four vehicle patrol ran into a hornet’s nest of enemy fire, but they were able to dismount to close with the enemy. Wooldridge led his fire team on a fast, dismounted flanking sweep that killed about half of the fifteen opponents in the ambush they’d spotted and scattered the rest, and then stayed behind to screen his Marines as they fell back. So far, so good …then Stuff Happened.
Wooldridge heard voices coming from behind a nearby wall, and decided to take a peek. He found himself face to face with four of the enemy, and he instantly opened fire with his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Two of the enemy dropped immediately. A third got a few steps before falling, and then, the SAW ran dry., leaving one opponent with a light machinegun less than 10 feet away. In a very gutsy move, Wooldridge tried to bluff the enemy soldier into surrendering, gesturing with his empty weapon, but it didn’t work, and he had to quickly duck behind the wall again and hope he had time to reload. He didn’t.
Spotting the barrel of the enemy light machinegun poking around the edge of the wall, the young Marine from Port Angeles, Washington did what Marines throughout history have done: “Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome.” He dropped the empty SAW, grabbed the barrel of the enemy weapon, and in a flurry of vicious hand to hand combat, killed the remaining enemy with the butt of his own gun. The citation for his Silver Star finishes the story with: “His audacious and fearless actions thwarted the enemy attack on his platoon. By his bold and decisive leadership, undaunted courage under fire, and total dedication to duty, Corporal Wooldridge reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”
To me, the story of Clifford Wooldridge serves as reminder that the defining quality of a marine NCO, whether serving on the deck of a Roman trireme or on some starship in the distant future, is not the technology that marine is equipped with, or their formal job description, but instead is that “bold and decisive leadership, undaunted courage under fire, and total dedication to duty” that a 10 year old boy I recall meeting many years ago when I lived in Washington state grew into.
MGSGT Jerome A. “ Gunny Hawk” Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET Marines