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Sgt. Maj. Oranjel Leavy and Sgt. Maj. Tricia Smith-Leavy

Photo by MCRD Parris Island

On Leadership: A DI reflects on leadership, training and family

19 Jul 2018 | Lt. Col. Jessica van Dop DeJesus 10th Marine Regiment

As a drill instructor, you have trained both enlisted and officers throughout your career.  What are your observations? How is the training similar?  What are the differences?


Recruit training is just that, recruit training. You are setting the foundation and training a civilian to be a basically trained Marine. You are hoping that when that new Marine enters the fleet, that young Marine will continue to be developed and molded and one day become a solid leader. In Officer Candidate School (OCS), candidates are being taught how to lead from the beginning.  They are expected to perform above and beyond the standard. When new Marine Officers enter the fleet, they are expected to lead regardless of what rank is on their collars.


My observation of training a civilian to become an Enlisted Marine or Marine Officer is very similar.  The fast pace of training, as well as trainers being so demanding allows individuals to examine themselves; if this new way of life is something they are willing to embrace and take wholeheartedly forever.  Some individuals who go through the training are successful; others realize they will not be able to carry on the responsibility of being a Marine and decide to depart from training.


Physical training is definitely different!  A recruit needs to pass a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and Combat Fitness Test (CFT). An OCS candidate has to pass a PFT/CFT with a high 1st class.  The tests candidates take at OCS usually have them up after taps studying for exams. 

How do you respond to questions about negative behaviors towards women starting at the Recruit Depots? As the SgtMaj of 3rd Recruit Battalion, what are your views?


First of all, I do not entertain nonsense. A trainee is a direct reflection of their leadership.  I do understand if a trainee is not conforming to becoming a Marine. Maybe that individual is not a good human being, and proper documentation needs to be made so that individual is held accountable and dropped from training. I believe the right leadership needs to be placed in the training environment at the Depot and OCS. My experience training at Parris Island, whenever on track with a female company, was always good.


The trainers at recruit training are Sergeants and SNCOs from throughout our Corps who attend a demanding school at Parris Island that gives that Marine the tools to be a successful Drill Instructor. That Drill Instructor will master their craft as they continue to train more platoons.  As for a trainer at OCS, all trainers were prior Drill Instructors.  Each SNCO will have to attend two weeks of training to reset them to train candidates at OCS.  Again, the Corps needs to screen Marines for each duty, ensuring the right individuals are being selected to train our future enlisted and officer Corps. 


How is 3rd BN cultivating a culture of dignity and respect for all Marines?


First, as a unit we understand the intent from the Commanding General.  We understand the importance of protecting the legacy at the Depot and making Marines the right way and that our beloved Corps will continue to prosper for many years to come.


One of the Task Force initiatives deals with dual military spouses and what we can do to retain both Marines. You are married to a fellow Marine, Sergeant Major Smith-Leavy.  Have you had any major challenges? 


The first challenge is understanding both careers are important.  It’s also important to support one another.  We discuss our goals together and where we see ourselves together being successful.  I will say the most challenging moment was when my wife deployed to Iraq.  When she returned after being deployed for almost a year we had to reset ourselves to living together. Then, once things got back to normal, I had to deploy. It was hard, but again staying focused, communicating, and truly supporting one another will get you through anything.


Do you have any suggestions on how we can ease the burden on this group of Marines? 


I have dealt with many married couples, helping them be successful together as a team.  It is imperative that the leadership is consistently engaged with their Marines. The Marines also have to believe and know that they can go to their leadership when in need.  Lastly, the senior Marines who are married in our Corps need to be good examples and display it daily in their everyday walk! The younger married Marines are looking for good role models to emulate.


On leadership: what are three key leadership takeaways from your twenty-two years of service?


In my twenty-two years of service I have come to realize there are certain things as a leader you must keep sharpening daily:


*Character: Doing the right thing, no matter if you have to stand for what is right alone.  Being consistent on being a good man or woman for our Corps.


*Spirit: I learned that in order to have good character, I must sharpen my spirit daily.  I do this by reading military knowledge, leadership books, and the Bible – learning from all angles of life.  Learning about how good leaders stay consistent doing the right thing and also the mistakes on how leaders failed.  Reading books strengthens my inner man (the spirit) and helps guide me to make sound decisions for the mission, Marines, commanders, and myself.


*Lastly, staying uncomfortable: Staying uncomfortable keeps me humble and grounded.  It reminds me I must sharpen myself every day in every area of being a Marine.  Knowing my Marines and leadership count on me to do the right thing at all times, I must stay uncomfortable.  If not, I'm afraid I will become complacent and fail my Marines, command, and the Corps.


As a Commander/Senior Enlisted, you have subordinates from different generations.  What is your approach in leading Marines of different generations? 


This takes me back to a comment Gen Chesty Puller once said, "Old breed? New breed? There’s not a damn bit of difference so long as it’s the Marine breed.”  Marines have been winning battles and protecting our country and the world for years.  Be professional; treat all Marines with respect.  Hold them accountable when needed, reward them when warranted.  Your actions should always display our Core Values; it's important we walk it daily. No matter what generation a Marine is from, a Marine is always looking for "That Marine!" Be the example that inspires others to do good always.


Do leaders need to customize their approach across ranks to be effective? 


I do not feel you need to customize yourself for anyone.  As long as you carry yourself with honor, respect other Marines, remain professional, and carry yourself with good ethos, any Marine will respect who you are.  Marines will always respect rank, but do they truly respect the man or woman in the uniform?  If a Marine is a pretender, not having good character, that Marine will have to customize for other Marines because they are not where they need to be.  But if a Marine is a Contender – doing all the right things with good character – that Marine will never have to customize for anyone.


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