MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- The Marine expeditionary unit represents everything the Marine Corps offers.
The Marines that comprise the MEU are the first responders to crises around the world. Its success is carried out by young Marines dedicated to maintaining a force in readiness. However, this would not be possible without exceptional senior leadership at the MEU.
Gunnery Sgt. Julia Martinez believes the best thing you can do to be successful is love what you do. In her 18 years of service to the Corps, the 39-year-old from Dallas has lived by this golden rule and preached it to every Marine she comes across.
In this interview Martinez, the electronic key management system manager for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shares how living by this rule has brought her success in life and her career.
Q: Where does your leadership skills come from?
A: All of it comes from my upbringing. I was born in Chicago, but moved to Zacatecas, Mexico, as a baby. I moved to Dallas to graduate high school when I was 19 years old. In Mexico, I grew up in a tiny village that didn’t have electricity, and everybody knew each other. It was completely different from here, so a lot of it comes from those humble beginnings.
Q: What influenced you to enlist in the Marine Corps?
A: I have an older brother, and we’re only a year apart. He joined the Army, and since we’ve always been really competitive, I told him I was going to join the Marine Corps. On top of that, every time I saw one of the commercials they always looked good in uniform and it caught my curiosity.
Q: Why did you want to become an electronic key management system manager?
A: I was having second thoughts about joining, so I called my recruiter to send me out next week or I probably wouldn’t be going. He told me I’d have to go open contract, I said that was okay, just get me out there next week. I left and got field radio operator. As a senior sergeant, I was pregnant with my first child. My unit went to the field a lot, and since I couldn’t go, I started working with my unit’s EKMS manager. I liked the work and the independence the job offered so I decided to do a lateral move into that field.
Q: What was your experience with leadership as a junior Marine?
A: The Marine Corps is what you make of it. You’re always going to run into issues or people you don’t get along with. Like anything else in life there is always good and bad. I’ve come across both types of leaders, but in those bad situations you have to make the best of it. No leadership is permanent, and those people usually don’t last long in the Corps. Overall, I had great leaders that helped me grow.
Q: What were some challenges you faced as a junior Marine that you wanted to change as a leader?
A: When I was stationed in [Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia,] I was single with no kids, supporting training exercises at The Basic School. I was in the field every week. There were a few single parent Marines in my unit who would never go to the field. I saw my leadership letting them get away with it. I understand there are situations, I’m a single parent now and I know how difficult it is, but leadership should not let Marines use their families as an excuse from work. After seeing that, I taught everyone I’ve mentored, as Marines, you need to be responsible. If you’re ready to be a parent, you have to have a plan. It takes a lot of work to balance your family and work. You can’t neglect one or the other. If you can’t handle that, then you need to reconsider having a family now. With that, you also have to have your life in order before you can be a leader to someone else.
Q: How do you juggle being a single parent and your job?
A: It hasn’t been easy. My family comes first, but that doesn’t mean I neglect my job. It takes a lot of planning. In life things happen and sometimes you have to stay late unexpectedly and I have planned for that. I’ve learned that communicating with your kids helps a lot. I explain to them what mommy does and that I’m a Marine 24/7, and if I get called, I have to go. It’s the same with Marines, if they know what is going on then they understand it better.
Q: How has the Marine Corps helped you develop as a leader?
A: The Marine Corps has shaped me into the leader I am today. Unfortunately, with the job I have now I don’t have Marines working for me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an influence on the Marines in this unit. You are still a mentor even if you don’t have Marines working for you. I like to do a lot of [physical training], so here and there I invite Marines to join me, or if I see someone struggling with something I offer guidance.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about being a leader?
A: I think the hardest thing for people in a leadership role is setting the example. I don’t believe you can be a leader and tell Marines, “Do as I say, not as I do.” How are you going to tell a Marine to do something if you’re in the wrong? Sometimes senior leaders get comfortable or feel as they can get away with more because they’ve been in longer. The most basic thing is living up to the standard you set for your Marines.
Q: Has your leadership style changed over time?
A: I joined when I was 21 years old. So I was always more mature than my peers at junior ranks. Overtime though, we all grow and your responsibility grows with each rank.
Q: What’s the most important lesson you hope Marines have taken away from you?
A: To enjoy what you do. My goal has never been to retire from the Marine Corps, It’s always been to continue learning and love what I do. I’ve always shared that with Marines. If you don’t love what you do, then this isn’t for you. Find what you love and pursue that. The minute you stop enjoying this then it’s time for you to move on. Don’t stay in just because you don’t have a plan. Even if you’ve been in 16 years; I’ve heard people say so many times, “I’ve been in 16 years, if I get out now I’ll feel like it’s a waste if I get out.” That’s not true; you have to go after what you love. I’ve always lived this one enlistment at a time. If I didn’t love this, I would finish today and move on without seeing my service as a waste.