Someone’s not paying attention.

This may come as a surprise to some, but as a Lance Corporal in the infantry I was considered somewhat of a wise ass (GASP!). This occasionally got me in trouble with SNCOs and NCOs who percieved my remarks as possibly disrespectful or “unmotivated” when in fact I was merely making light of lousy situations. I used to joke that things like logic had to be suspended once you joined the Corps. Being a good Marine was like becoming a Jedi : “You must unlearn all that you have learned.”

I pinned on Corporal way back in 1995. It was while I was a student at the Marine Security Guard School in Quantico (pre-pepper spray). I had just come from 1st Bn 3D Marines and had a been a Lance Corporal squad leader during my time there. Being a squad leader (an NCO billet) as a Lance Corporal just may be one of the best jobs in the Marine Corps. You have all the authority and none of the responsibility.

Upon being promoted to Corporal I knew the jig was up. Now I was expected to know better and my Lance Corporal shenanigans would not hold up to scrutiny. It was a scary realization.

In late 1996 I was promoted to Sergeant. This was a big deal and considered one of the best of the enlisted ranks, the other being Gunnery Sergeant. Now I was supposed to actually know stuff. Yikes! Sergeants knew everything about the Corps. Keep in mind, other than my drill instructors, my introduction to Sergeants was none other than the Cyborg himself. I panicked as I realized I didn’t know anything!

Still trying to rationalize all of that, I was shipped off to 2D Force Service Support Group in Camp Lejuene to become a Nuclear Biological Chemical (No Body Cares) Defense Specialist. I would spend the next eight years trying to do anything but my military occupational specialty.

The day I checked in the with the NBC Platoon at HQ Battalion a young PFC approached me. Dressed in my Service Alpha uniform I no doubt cut a dashing figure (it’s one of the reasons we join after all). He began to gripe about his perceived hypocrisy of some of the platoon leadership. At a loss of what to say, I responded with the only thing I could think of: “Just shut your mouth. Do what I do and you’ll be ok.” It must have worked. That PFC is now a Marine Captain.

By the time I kind of figured out how to be a decent Sergeant I was selected for promotion to Staff Sergeant. Oh crap! Marine Staff NCOs have a level of responsibility unparalleled in the U.S. Armed Forces. They are go to Marines with the corporate knowledge of 236 years of storied tradition. Immediatly upon recieving your first rocker something magic happens where your brain automatically downloads everything a SNCO needs to know. At least this is the perception. Somehow my software never got the memo.

During this period I was given orders to 3rd Recon Battalion in Okinawa to be their NBC Chief. Many cool things happened at 3rd Recon. None of them involved nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare.

Gunnery Sergeant is probably the greatest rank in the Marine Corps. The Gunny gets things done. In 2003 I was given this mantle. Keep in mind not all Gunnery Sergeants are The Gunny either. The Lance Corporal in me shivered with fear. Gunnys are supposed to everything! They took action and produced results! I was doomed! Sooner or later someone was going to see through my disguise and realise I was a LCpl posing as a SNCO.  I played my role well and eventually a Company Gunny with the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force in Indian Head, MD.

Once I was walking through the passageway with one of my Corporals on some kind of mission to make something happen when the Cpl looked at me and said: “Gunny, how come you walk around like you’re some kind of bad $&!#@*?” 

The panicked LCpl in me freaked: he knows! I casually looked the Corporal up and down and said: “I’ll let you in on a secret. I kinda am a bad $&!#@*.” I continued to swagger down the hall having dodged another bullet. Whew!

In 2007 I was promoted to 1stSgt and given orders to 3/3 America’s Battalion. The Company 1stSgt is the be all and end all of things pertaining to his company. The sun rises and sets on his command. Careers blossom or fall at his whim. He knows EVERYTHING about everything! I had no idea what I was going to do. Many of the Marines I was leading were combat vets who knew more about counter insurgency operations than I ever would. 

If there was one thing I had already learned in my time with the Corps it was if I took care of the troops they would take care of the mission. I also had some experience looking and acting like a professional Marine and set out to teach those in my charge how to do likewise. It also helps to go on a few patrols with the men and gain a reputation as a bullet magnet (also mortar and IED magnet).

After two combat deployments with 3/3 I have been with the Fleet Anti-terrorist Security Team Company in Bahrain for the last two years. We’ve been all over the CENTCOM AO and this past year have conducted three embassy reinforcement missions during the current unrest. My Marines have made me look pretty good with every task they’ve been given.

So, it is with some humility I announce the Marine Corps has seen fit to approve my selection to Sergeant Major. To which I can only wonder what the heck am I supposed to do now? Don’t they know who I am? I can only hope to pin on the rank before someone in authority realises they are promoting some wise assed Lance Corporal to Sergeant Major.

I suspect someone’s been tricked here and I’m not quite certain who it is yet.

Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt

/ / / /


  1. 1. Congratulations.
    2. Joing SGTMAJ Kasal.
    3. Have that picture framed on a wall. Tell people looking at it to check out his right hand and then explain the shape he was in.
    4. Deleted this from an earlier comment: What does the USMC do? Keep guys like you and Kasal in cases with instructions to break glass in case of war? (Not original)
    5. Lots of otherwise good Marines don’t push past LCPL. It isn’t in them.
    6. Somewhere between the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli, another USMC SGTMAJ will be turning handsprings.
    V/R JWest

  2. Excellent post. Glad to have been able to catch you in the waning days of your wise-ass Lance Corporaldom, and to have been there in person for your promotions to Cpl and Sgt. SgtMaj…the Corps will never be the same!

  3. 1st Sgt, this is GalPal from The Sandbox – I know my secret identity is safe with you. Who has more honor than a Marine? Which leads me to why I’m contacting you here. Ever since my second post about how tough pro ballet dancers and Aikido senseis are, I’ve been feeling this annoying nudging in what must be my conscience – it’s probably my late Dad’s ghost grumbling something about respect. I just wanted to be certain that you know in what high esteem I hold the Marines in general, and, after reading your very funny and astute Tabata PT post in The Sandbox, you in particular. I’m a Navy brat (surprise) – now don’t curl your lip at “Navy” – my Dad was a mustang who retired at 30 yrs as Commander – right after he returned from his second tour of Vietnam and they offered him a raise in pay grade, since Cmdr. was as high as he could go as an LDO, if he would do one more tour. After seeing what a cluster**** Vietnam was and, I believe, having his heart a bit broken by just what an unholy meat grinder his men were thrown into, and knowing the Pentagon was frantic for officers to throw at the mess, he respectfully declined and retired – or as Crash Davis says in ‘Bull Durham,’ he hit his dinger and hung ’em up. My point? He taught me three things in particular in life: Never complain, never explain (found out years later he got it from Winston Churchill, but what the heck); to think for myself, and if there are 99 people who disagree with me and I truly think I’m in the right, I have to stick to my guns while still considering their opinions; and to always, always have the utmost respect for military personnel and families, no matter what the current political climate. It’s one of the reasons I read The Sandbox and a few other milblogs, I feel like they’re the only place I’m getting the real picture of the Middle East and the GWOT, from folks like you. So, this isn’t an explanation (just long, sorry about that, brevity is the soul of wit, but I have yet to come close to mastering it) – I just wanted to be certain to say, “You, and the Marines are the best, no qualifier – just the best.” And congrats, SgtMaj! What great news for you and for the Marines! Keep doing what you’re doing, and that secret feeling of being a fraud should go away in about, what, 20 years? Stay safe, and remember what Churchill said. It’s been working for me 🙂

  4. Jon, thank you!

    Stark, no America’s LCpl stories!

    Pax, thanks. But I am not a SgtMaj yet. I’ll let you know.

    JWest, thank you. You place me in league with giants. Not so sure I rate such high praise.

    Valerie, I assure you no offense was taken. I knew what you meant but I couldn’t resist myself. Glad you are out there as America needs good citizens too. You are more than welcome to visit here any time.

  5. Wow! Congratulations.

    If it helps to put it into perspective, every Admiral was also first your favored Navy Lieutenant and every Commandant started off with butter bars. You are a credit to the Marine Corps, and the cream, in this case, is rising to the top.

    And just when I was finally getting used to thinking of you as First Sergeant Burke. In my book, Gunny was just your first name. I still have to clarify for my wife whenever I share something about 1stSgt Burke. I think she only may have met you once, but you remain her favorite among all her husband’s bosses (probably something to do with leading, opposed to managing).

  6. Congratulations.

    I enjoyed my time as a corporal (Army Infantry) a lot buit I was never considered worthy of advancing to higher NCO rank…so they made me an officer!

    I have to say in the commissioned ranks a 1LT is the closest to lance corporal…and senior captain to a Gunny.

    I had tons of fun in both ranks…so much so I remained a Captain for a looong time.

    Thanks for you service and again, congrats!

  7. Congrats!

    I laughed pretty hard while reading this. I felt the exact same thing- they’re actually promoting me? Is this some kind of mistake??

    But hearing a 1SG admit the same thing is hilarious. Keep sneaking along!

  8. Congratulations! I spent 5 years in the Corps progressing from Pvt to Sgt. During that time, I lost faith in the Corps’ senior NCO leadership because I served with so many SNCO’s who never understood that JJ DID TIE BUCKLE is more than a way to get through a Marine-of-the-Month board. Your blog clearly indicates that you get it. I regret that I never served with you. You probably would have inspired me to stay in. And I would have had exactly 24 years of service today. Semper Fi.

  9. Many, many congratulations. I am quite certain that you will enjoy your new rank, and that the Marine Corps will be patting itself on its collective back for its wisdom in promoting you.

    Just make sure that your new responsibilities don’t keep you so busy you have no time write.

  10. I remember it was my mother who, strolling beside me at Quantico, remarked “You walk as though you owned the whole *(*&### world.”

  11. Congratulations, the SGTMAJ Board knows what the Corps needs and you have been selected to meet those needs. Well earned, well deserved. FWIW, for about 23 of my 31.5 years of service I, too, KNEW I was well above my level of competence. I never figured out who was more amazed at the results of promotion boards, me or anybody who knew me!

  12. Ivanhoe, thanks! I guess my pretending works better than others. Thanks again.

    Barrett, 1stSgt? I’m still trying to get over having been promoted to Cpl! Thanks.

    Meadow, I have to motivate the LCpls. I sure as hell am NOT picking up all those cigarette butts. Thanks!

    John, thankyou. Among officers I understand Capt is the greatest rank. I know some who try to remain in company command even as Majors. Nothing like holding the reins yourself.

    Okie, thanks brother!

    Saker, see? You’re not alone. Thanks!

    Coffey, thank you. The new rocker and star will propel me to new heights. Also a new job somewhere. I as yet have no clue where though.

    Anonymous one, thanks! I always said as long as I was enjoying myself I would stick around. Nothing wrong with doing your time and moving on though. Something I tell my SNCOs: imagine what your Marines would do for you if they believed you actually gave a crap about them? Something to think about.

    Book, thanks! You sound like Kanani chewing me out about not writing enough. What’s up with that?

    Shay, ha! Did you tell her you did? As a Sgt one of my SgtMajs saw me walking down the passageway and remarked: “You already walk like a Gunny!”

    aniemyer, whew! Glad I’m not the only one. Just when I think I might have my present grade kind of figured out they go and promote me to a knew one!

  13. Huzzah! Congrats A1S no mo’!

    “…Now I was expected to know better and my Lance Corporal shenanigans would not hold up to scrutiny.”

    I wondered out loud to the Sone&Heir recently about the possibility of him picking up Corporal on the first go in a few months and he just laughed and said “Yeah, that would be my Last Chance to Play Lost.”

    He’s off to his first Ball tomorrow. Missed the last one on workups. He’ll be earning it in — Color Guard. His attitude about formations and drill is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” And here I wondered if he heard a single word growing up. ;^)

  14. be603, thanks! Guess some things don’t change when it comes to being a LCpl. When he spouts off with something you have always told him just don’t remind him where he heard it. Nice picture!

    Leslie, too late! Thanks!

  15. NavyOne, thanks shipmate! Are you possibly referring to enlisted types who cross over to the officer ranks as being great Americans?

    Anonymous one, thanks killer. Glean what pearls you can and take the trash and throw it away.

  16. Q: Are you possibly referring to enlisted types who cross over to the officer ranks as being great Americans?

    A: Yes, I knew there was a reason you were promoted! You have an uncanny knack for insightful observations.

  17. Thanks, 1stSgt, for your welcome and your humor. Speaking of which, I really liked your Freudian slip typo “I knew what you meant but I couldn’t resist myself.” Good – that way, no one else can resist you, either! An indomitable force are you. Peace and congrats again – please let us know the official date.

  18. A1S, I identify with the feelings of “What the Hell am I doing here?” after a promotion, followed closely by “If they ever find out the truth about me I’m gonna get tossed!”

    But, congrats! And keep writing.

  19. Congratulations America’s Sergeant Major!

    Would it be out of line to suggest that knowing you don’t know everything about everything is probably the reason you’re such a fine sergeant of Marines?

  20. “Book, thanks! You sound like Kanani chewing me out about not writing enough. What’s up with that?”

    I’m just greedy. I like your writing, and think it would be ridiculous if your real job interfered with the genuinely important task of entertaining me.

  21. NavyOne, I also have a knack for incisive dentistry.

    Anonymous One, thanks!

    Valarie, no worries, I will ensure the blogosphere is the first to know. With pics!

    ExAFCrewDog, tell me about it! I look upon squad leaders with envy. Thanks and I’ll see what I can do about the writing gig.

    Travis, thank you! Although, there are those who wouldn’t consider humility my strongest attribute. 🙂

    Book, well said! I burst out laughing. Thanks!

  22. Shay, ha! Did you tell her you did? As a Sgt one of my SgtMajs saw me walking down the passageway and remarked: “You already walk like a Gunny!”

    It would have been throwing fuel on the fire. She was livid when I signed up and even more livid when I actually made it through OCS and TBS.

    Congratulations, btw.

  23. Top,
    In the Army, NOBODY cares for the NBC NCO…they forced us to wear useless gear (gas mask etc) for no reason, but they thought it was THE most important subject in the US Army… then when I deployed, I left it all in the bottom of the last duffle bag (aka “sea bag”) and never used it the whole 2 years.
    My first couple of promotions surprised me more than anybody. But in the old days, not everybody in the US Army could read and write.
    When I made “Buck Sergeant” E5, I was very happy, but for ever crisis I got sent to, I ended up supervising at a level way above my pay grade…so I realized I really needed to get promoted …but even in I-raq I was doing work above my pay grade… but that was OK with me.

    and there is something to be said about Jedi knights.

  24. As a child my grandfather would tell me, “Walk down the street like you own one side and are renting the other.” He was never a Marine, but maybe he knew one or two? Congratulations! Sounds like a brownie occasion!

  25. Ally, you know something we don’t? And thanks!

    Magoo, thank you! SMMC is definately NOT in my future. Nor am I some 30 year guy. (famous last words, I know)

    Shay, thanks!

    CI Roller, NBC types get people’s attention once a year for annual training and they milk it for all it’s worth. As young Marines we used to attempt to use our mind tricks on our NCOs: “This isn’t the working party you are looking for.”

    Kristina, thanks! Brownies for all my men!

  26. Congratulations on bluffing so well for so long! (Note to self: do not play cards or dice with IstSgt or SgtMaj.) So, does this mean you start walking on water, or does your software just download the locations of all the slightly-submerged rocks?


  27. Congorats and condolances.

    Congorats on the promo. Promos are always good.

    Condolances on the promo too.

    Smaj’s office chair has seat pads replaced by grav plates.

    Your tail will be stuck in that seat from start of office hours to end of business.

    Even attempting to lift your tail from that seat will trigger an auto mesg from Next Higher reminding you of the fact that you no longer *lead men, you now manage those who lead.

    You’ve become a mandarin scribe in the offices of power.

    * You’ll still “lead by example” of course, but you’ll be seen by danged few while doing it.

    Smaj’s are meant to be more myth and legend than daily observable fact.

    PS. Your inner L/Cpl can now get payback on the office of 1st Sgt. That is the true purpose of Smaj.

    At least, that’s what I think I was told when I was a young snuffy so many decades ago.

    v/r and Semper Fi


  28. LittleRed, the walking on water thing is so two millenia ago. I’m content to have the Marines believe I shave with a tomahawk.

    Grimmy, I was warned a long time ago not to get into a hurry over being promoted. They take away your Marines and give you a desk!

  29. 1) happy early birthday,
    2) congrats/condolences on your promotion
    3) Since Veterans day is in 3 days, thank you

  30. Huh. Top, I made LCpl out of Radio Relay Repair School in 1965, 2nd in the class. My reward was to be sent to 10th Marines–with zero Radio Relay equipment. So I volunteered for Vietnam. They must have thought I was nuts, and pinned CPL on me in 66. It worked out okay, because you have to kill a lot of bad grunts before you even wake up the RR team. I got out as a Cpl in 68, got elected to the Massachusetts Senate after college, and, sick of politicians, went back in the reserves in 77. Senator during the week, Cpl on the weekend. After six years, they finally made me a SSgt before I changed jobs and had to work weekends, putting paid to the reserves. Got out just before I got the letter saying I was selected for 2nLt as an LDO in Public Affairs.

    You will be a fine SgtMaj, because you still recall what it was like to be a LCpl. Semper Fi & Happy Birthday.

    Robert A. Hall
    Author: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
    (All royalties go to a charity to help wounded veterans)
    For a free PDF of the book, write tartanmarine(at)

  31. Congrats in the promotion!!! I know in the normal world I think that all the time about my job. He thinks i can really do this??? But most of the time we rise to the occasion!

    Happy Birthday!!

  32. Anonymous One, 1) Thank you 2) Very 3) Much!

    Tartan Marine, thanks for the vote of confidence!

    David, I had a cold one all sitting out for you but I had to drink it before it got warm.

    Mark, thanks! Birthday shenanigens start tomorrow!

  33. Sometimes it takes a couple of months to hear JUST. THE. RIGHT. THING. to share on such a momentous occasion. So I’m back:

    In the Blue Ridge Mountains, there was a retired Marine who was reputed to have the best hunting dog ever, by the name of “Gunny.” Three Marine Generals went up into the mountains and wanted to rent him. The old Marine said, “He’s a real good huntin’ dog. Gonna cost ya $50 a day.” They agreed and three days l…ater came back with the limit. … The next year they came back. “‘Gunny got better,” the old fellow said, “This year I’m gonna charge you $75 a day.” Again they agreed, and 2 days later they came back with the limit. The third year they came back and told the old Marine they had to have “Gunny” even if it cost $100 a day. The old Marine spat and angrily replied, “You can have the worthless mutt for $5 a day, and even at that rate I’m overcharging you $4!!” The bewildered Generals asked, “But we don’t understand, what happened to him?” “Well, a bunch of new Lieutenants from Quantico came up and rented him. One of the idiots called him ‘Sergeant Major’ by mistake, and now all the SOB does is sit on his ass all day and bark!

    Semper Fi, brother!

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