View Full Version : Commander passes torch - looks at past, towards future

08-16-05, 09:58 AM
Commander passes torch - looks at past, towards future
Marine Forces Atlantic
Story by Sgt. Chris R. Berryman

U.S. MARINE CORPS FORCES ATLANTIC, Norfolk Va. (Aug. 15, 2005) -- Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic, held a change of command ceremony, Monday, August 15, at the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion parade field.

Lt.Gen. Martin R. Berndt relinquished his command to Lt.Gen. Robert R. Blackman, Jr., formerly the commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force. Immediately following the change of command, Lt.Gen. Berndt retired having served in the Marine Corps since 1969.

Lt.Gen. Berndt was born in Philadelphia, Penn., to Richard and Muriel Berndt who were both veterans of the Second World War.

During his freshman year at West Chester University, Lt.Gen. Berndt lost a good friend in Vietnam, a Marine lieutenant, inspiring him to become a Marine.

This future leader of Marines signed up for the Platoon Leaders Course in 1966 to serve four years in the Corps upon graduation. The desire to become a Marine was solidified by the spartan environment, the shared value, the self-discipline, and the willingness of leaders and instructors to be more concerned for the welfare of others than for oneself.

A Young Officer

After his commissioning in 1969, Lt.Gen. Berndt attended The Basic School, Vietnamese language school and went to 9th Marines to serve as a weapons platoon commander and a rifle platoon commander, and company executive officer with the 7th and 1st Marines in Vietnam.

As a platoon commander with 2nd Battalion 9th Marines, then 2nd Lt. Berndt learned the importance and the influence of the staff non-commissioned officer.

“The SNCOs that I first experienced fully recognized that the platoon commander had a role, the platoon sergeant had a role, the platoon guide had a role, the company gunny had a role; if you let them do their jobs there won’t be any problems,” said Berndt.

This provided a valuable, career-long lesson for Lt.Gen. Berndt.

After completing his tour in Vietnam, he was assigned as an officer selection officer in New York City, competing with corporate recruiters for prospective candidates.

“I realized many of them were not nearly as happy with what they did as I was,” said Berndt.

In 1973, Lt.Gen. Berndt made the decision to stay a Marine as long as the Marine Corps would allow him.

Leadership is Selfless

The focus of a young and inexperienced leader, officer or enlisted, is very different than that of a senior leader, said Berndt.

“You don’t know things; you want to learn, you’re like a sponge trying to suck all these things in, your focus is on succeeding on the battlefield,” he said. “As a young officer or non-commissioned officer your focus is on warfighting, making sure your Marines have the right skills to allow you to succeed. As you rise through the ranks your focus is a little different, it’s on making sure those young leaders have the right people, training and equipment to be able to succeed.”

“You’re really facilitating their success rather than trying to be successful yourself,” said Berndt.

Lt.Gen. Berndt, reflected that he had made mistakes in his tenure as a Marine, offered “you should think about others before yourself. Stand up for what’s right even when there’s risk involved.”

“Regardless of a Marine’s rank, age or experience, they are just as important as anybody else in this organization,” said Berndt. “Their ideas, initiative and imagination are really what we have to rely on to continue to be who we are.”

“Don’t ever think that what you’re doing is unimportant, because it’s really important; you are the soul of the institution.”

“We are different,” Berndt said, speaking of Marines, “the American people expect us to be different. They expect us to walk and talk, act and dress as Marines 24/7, and we owe that to them.”

Remembering a rare opportunity to watch “Sesame Street” with his children while they were growing up, Lt.Gen. Berndt remembered that the character “Big Bird” sang a song, “Everyone makes mistakes, so why can’t you.”

“Everyone makes mistakes, Marines make mistakes, but we need to recover from them, to learn from them,” said Lt.Gen. Berndt. “Don’t discard any Marine just because he or she has made a mistake, as long as those mistakes are not a result of bad character.”

Lt.Gen. Berndt hopes he succeeded in fostering an environment where people could grow in their profession, become better warriors, maintain their focus on their country and the Corps, and emphasize the two leadership traits he feels are first among equals - moral courage and unselfishness.

“Stand up for what you believe, fight the good fight, make the good case. If redirected, salute the decision and carry on the job with enthusiasm,” said Berndt.

“Leadership traits apply equally to both a Pfc. and a full general,” said Lt.Gen. Berndt. “Based upon a Marine’s leadership style and personality, they can choose which ones are most pertinent; they can play to their strong suit and capitalize on their strengths.”

Lt.Gen Berndt is retiring to Hubert, NC., where he will be, surrounded by the Marines he has spent a lifetime working for, a few miles from the entrance to Camp LeJeune. Lt.Gen Berndt is married to Diana Berndt. They have a daughter Danielle Niemann; two sons, Martin and Dennis; and a grandson Julian.

“I don’t aspire to be a rich person. I don’t aspire to be a famous person. I just aspire to be a good father and husband. When my time is up, and I’m called away by the good Lord, people will hopefully think I made a contribution and influenced things in a positive way.”

Lt.Gen Berndt now plans to continue to make a contribution to our nations’ security, safety and well-being.