View Full Version : Forward-deployed Marine chosen as 15th Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps

04-28-03, 08:39 AM
Forward-deployed Marine chosen as 15th Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps
Submitted by: Headquarters Marine Corps
Story Identification Number: 200342885347
Story by Sgt. W.A. Napper Jr.

KUWAIT(aPR. 25, 2003) -- During an all-hands staff noncommissioned officer meeting at a Kuwait air base April 22, Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general, announced that the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, has selected the 15th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps - Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, 3rd MAW sergeant major.

"I've never met anybody that's moved into that job," Maj. Gen. Amos said to the crowd. "And to think, you're one of us. What we're going to get here is a Marines' Marine, a sergeant major that understands what being a sergeant major is all about."

To a standing ovation from the SNCOs in the room, Estrada took the microphone with a smile.

"I did not sleep at all last night," he said. "This is a very momentous event. There are many Marines and Sailors I have to thank. I know I wouldn't be in this position if it were not for them. This is as much a part of you as it is of me."

He told the SNCOs when he made a permanent change of station move to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Dec. 7, 2001, he had intended to retire following his tour and settle in California with his family. Less than two years later, he deployed to Kuwait to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I was very fortunate to get slated to be the 3rd MAW sergeant major," he said. "I did not realize when I put my name in for that job that it would be such a huge responsibility. I wanted to get back out West because I was approaching retirement time and I was looking at retiring. Since I came up through the wing it was like a homecoming of some sorts and I could not think of a better way to end my career - to be fortunate enough to come back and end it in the wing. It was just a tremendous billet for me."

Earlier this year, while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, Estrada received a phone call from the 14th Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Alford L. McMichael, informing him he was one of the final four candidates for the 15th Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps.

"I was in disbelief and at the time I thought maybe he called the wrong person," said Estrada. "I never thought of myself as ever having a chance of being one of them. I was in shock because I thought I was getting called to get my butt chewed over their visit. A few days prior to that phone call, the Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps were visiting us; visiting their Marines here in Kuwait. I was a little concerned getting a call from the sergeant major right after their visit, because I was thinking 'what could we have done, what didn't they like?' to get that phone call."

Every few years a board looks at the top approximately 150 sergeants major on the linear list and selects five candidates. They present this list to the Commandant of the Marine Corps for review. If he likes none of the candidates' qualifications, he can go back to the board and order them to try again.

The decision for the next Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps is solely the Commandant's and once the four were selected they were interviewed at different times.

Estrada said he prepared for his interview by coming up with a list of eight questions he thought Gen. Hagee would ask.

"When I went into the interview I felt I had as good a chance as the other three," he said. "I went in and gave it my best shot. I finally decided to just go and be myself, be who I have always been."

Of those eight questions Estrada had prepared, the Commandant only asked one - "Why do you think you should be the next Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps?"

"What are three things you would change in the Marine Corps?" and "If I did not select you as the next Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, whom would you recommend?" were other questions asked by the Commandant.

"I thought that was the best question of all because it really shows the character of the individual," he said.

Estrada received a phone call April 21 from Gen. Hagee informing him of the final decision. In a small twist, the phone call didn't come directly to his office. Instead, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron's Staff Judge Advocate Marines received it.

"There were people scrambling to get me because the Commandant of the Marine Corps was on the phone," he said. "So I made the walk over to the SJA, which is not that far away, but to me it felt like I was walking on a plank and was getting ready to go overboard. I was wondering, trying to figure if this was going to be good news or bad. The question going through my mind was 'is he was going to tell me that I am the guy or is he going to tell me sorry, I'm not the guy?'"

When he reached the phone he was told to stand by for the Commandant. Then the Corps' top Marine picked up the phone.

"The Commandant came on the phone and said 'Sergeant Major Estrada, how are you doing today? I'm calling you to offer a position to be the next Sergeant Major of our Corps. Do you still want the job?'"

Even though he'd had some time to brace himself for either decision, Estrada said he was taken aback by the question.

"I was stunned because that's very big news - very big news," he said. "I said 'Sir, yes of course I still want the job.' Then I told him I was honored that he had confidence in me and afforded me the opportunity to be the 15th Sergeant Major of our Corps.

"I've always known that if I got to the position where I could make a difference, I'd like to try to make a difference," said Estrada. "So I thought about it, and thought if I could get to this position I could really help make a difference in impacting the Marine Corps as a whole and in a very positive way. That's all I've ever tried to do."

Estrada has been known as a Marine's Marine, and is often found talking with junior enlisted and junior officers to make sure everything is running smoothly for them. He said he believes one of his strong points is his ability to communicate up and down the chain of command.

"That has always been my style," he said. "I feel very, very good knowing that I can go out and connect with the lowest-ranking Marines and talk to them. All my commanders have always allowed me the latitude to do just that. That's the only way that I can get the true pulse of what's going on in the unit. You can't do that from behind a desk. I look forward to going out and talking to the Marines and I love doing that.

"I don't feel I'm the sergeant major of just the enlisted Marines. I'm not, I'm the sergeant major for the command. I spend a lot of time with junior officers and commanders to see if they need anything or if there's something we can be doing better to support them."


04-28-03, 08:39 AM
He said he would continue to get out and meet with as many Marines as possible to listen to them. <br />
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&quot;I will continue to take every opportunity that I have to get out and connect with the Marines,&quot;...