THE SERGEANT MAJOR OF THE MARINE CORPS
The sergeant major of the Marine Corps is a serious man. MARINES Magazine sat down with him early one morning in his very busy Pentagon office. From talking to him about the Corps’ new running suit to suicide prevention training, there’s no denying that the most senior enlisted devil dog in the Marine Corps genuinely cares about his Marines.
MARINES MAGAZINE: There were a few recommendations you made to the commandant on the wear of the Marine Corps’ new running suit. Could you explain these recommendations?
SGT. MAJ. KENT: The order should read that when you wear the running suit top on liberty, the running suit should be worn with the zipper halfway up. The way it states right now is “should be.” But, we want it to read must be so it would be mandatory for how [Marines] wear the running suit and it presents a neat appearance, which right now, if they did not wear it zipped halfway up, and it was just hanging open, it is not a neat appearance. That’s the reason why we made that recommendation, because as Marines, we always present a neat appearance.
Believe it or not, a lot of Marines love that running suit – they love it. They would prefer to wear the whole running suit on liberty, not just the top. It’s a quality running suit, made by New Balance. It’s the best running suit. In my opinion, it’s the best running suit of any service. That’s the reason Marines are asking to be allowed to wear the whole running suit to include the top and bottom on liberty.
Our recommendation was that Marines be allowed to wear the whole running suit on liberty. But we have to look at this carefully, because as Marines we have standards, and our standard has always been that you dress appropriately while on liberty. That’s one thing that we have to balance. If we are allowed to wear the whole running suit, how would that look as far as a personal appearance?
How would you rate the caliber of the noncommissioned officer today?
The NCO is truly the backbone of the Marine Corps. I mean, look at the great NCOs over in combat. They’re leading Marines and they’re leading them with the legacy that we’ve always had in our Marine Corps. Our warfighting legacy is strong, as it always has been, and it’s basically because of those young NCO’s who are out there hooking and jabbing setting that great example for their young Marines. On the flip side of that, we should give the NCOs the tools needed to accomplish the mission, and that’s where the education piece comes in. In 2008, we had over 20,000 corporals that were promoted. Out of that, only nine percent had been through the corporals course, and we should never do that to our NCOs. We need to get them the education needed. We don’t want to set them up for failure. We want to set them up for success and in order to do that, we need to educate. The commandant has full trust and confidence in our NCOs, and he’s going to keep pushing that leadership down to them because he knows that’s where it starts, because they’re truly the backbone of the Marine Corps.
Suicide prevention has been paramount in sections and commands throughout the Marine Corps. What do you recommend Marines do on the individual level to prevent fellow Marines from committing suicide?
As a leader, you have to know your Marines. You have to know how they tick, you have to know their family, and you have to know them personally, so you can see changes in their life. If you see changes, then you have to react to those changes, but first of all, you need to know them as a leader. Secondly, you have to know where to send these individuals if they start having issues. You have to know where to send these individuals to get that help they need, and to include their families. That’s the two key points right there. And as a leader, you really must know each Marine’s strengths and weaknesses.
Do you have any new goals or new ideas for the future?
The Marine Corps needs to constantly think outside the box and come up with new ideas for the future. If you look at the Marine Corps from 1775 to now, the Marines have the warfighting legacy that’s really great. You talk to someone about the Marine Corps, the first thing they think about is warfighting. If you look at the Marines’ Hymn, every verse is about combat. Not knocking the other services’ songs, but we’re the only hymn where every verse is about combat.
Our legacy is strong. We have to continue to think outside the box, and get recommendations from Marines – young Marines, older Marines – It doesn’t matter. If you have a good recommendation that’s going to enhance our warfighting capabilities, we have to take it in. There will continue to be changes to our Marine Corps. Our commandant, Gen. [James T.] Conway, has made some great changes, and he made those changes based on the future of our Corps, not the present. As we travel around, we talk to thousands of Marines, and Marines have great ideas out there. The Marine Corps will continue to make changes long after I’m gone. I’ll be sitting in my rocking chair watching Marines do great things in years to come.
The Marine Corps is in great shape. We don’t need to be set in our ways, beating our chest and not want to make changes, because change is always good, as long as it’s in the best interest of the Marine Corps. That’s another sign of a leader – is to be a good listener.
Do you have a message you’d like to send out to the Marines fighting the enemy in Afghanistan?
The commandant and I, and all the leadership throughout the Marine Corps, are extremely proud of what they’re doing for the Corps today. They’re living up to the war-fighting legacy. Take care of each other, because that’s what the Corps is about – taking care of each other. Take care of your brothers and sisters in our Corps.