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. Phillip Veracruz believes the tools to being a leader are having passion, motivation, knowledge, and an open mind. In his 19 years of service to the Corps, the 38 year old from San Antonio has lived by these characteristics and has instilled it in every Marine he comes across.
In this interview Veracruz, the assistant operations chief for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shares how living by these traits has brought him success in life and his career.
Q: Are you a natural born leader or was it something you developed over time?
A: I would have to say yes and no. I think that the Marine Corps has fine-tuned those traits in me. Growing up as a kid I played baseball in high school, and I would get the team going and fired up for practices or games. As you progress in life you are constantly fine tuning the skills you have to be a better leader.
Q: Was there a definitive moment or self-realization where you saw yourself as a leader? If so please explain.
A: Yes. I have always been the small guy and becoming a machine gunner was something I always had to prove myself. The moment that I saw, or when others saw leadership, was when I completed my first 25 mile hike. I motivated and led my machine gun team, and made sure we all completed the hike.
Q: What is your opinion on the reawakening of the NCO Corps?
A: I think that all [noncommissioned officers] should take this challenge that our [commandant of the Marine Corps] has pushed down to them. NCOs are the backbone of our Corps. We pride ourselves on small unit leadership, and that leadership is made possible by the NCOs. I highly encourage all NCOs to take this as a challenge, and take back that leadership role and continue to make our Corps better.
Q: What does it take to become a leader?
A: Passion, motivation, knowledge, and an open mind. Without these things you won’t have what it takes to lead, because no one will want to follow you.
Q: What do you expect from those you lead?
A: Always be ready for anything, have an open mind, understand that life in the Corps is never fair and always be humble.
Q: What do you demand from yourself as a leader?
A: Give 110 percent every day. To learn as much as I can, and pass everything I learn to those that will keep it all moving forward. Never hold anything to yourself.
Q: Was there ever a time where you felt the most pressure as a leader?
A: The most difficult time I had as a leader was with my last unit, the Fleet Anit-Terrorism Security Team Pacific. I was the senior enlisted Marine on a naval base. Having to learn how to work and operate to take care of my Marines within a Navy environment was challenging. Working for senior level Navy enlisted personnel and learning how they work and what was expected of leaders was challenging.
Q: How did you overcome that challenge and how have you benefitted from that experience?
A: It’s helped me understand the bigger picture. Understanding that there is a purpose and a reason for everything we do when given an order or a task from higher. I took that experience and knowledge from senior leaders and put it in my tool boxes. I brought that tool box with me to the MEU and will use it to help the MEU be successful in all missions we are tasked with.
Q: With 19 years of experience do you feel like you’ve reached your peak as a mentor?
A: No. I don’t think you ever do. Even if you’re the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, you may have reached the top as far as rank, but leadership is continually evolving and getting better as you progress in life. Regardless if you’re in the military or in the civilian world, there is so much knowledge and mentorship you receive from others. Having an open mind and being humble is what sets you apart as a leader. You take those characteristics and traits, and you put them in your tool boxes to continue mentoring others.
Q: What's been the hardest thing about being a leader and how do you overcome that?
A: Trying to maintain everything that life and the Corps throws at you. It starts with leaving work at work, and when you’re at work, leave home at home. We have such a huge responsibility, that we have to be 100 percent focused and engaged on what we’ve been tasked with. Your passion has to be in the fight. With that goes enjoying the time you get off. When you’re with your family, be with them and be a mentor to your children. I think that’s the hardest thing to do for some, but you have to, or else this job will get the best of you.
Q: What's been the most rewarding thing about being a leader?
A: Watching Marines and sailors achieve their goals, dreams, and grow within our Corps.
Q: As a leader, what kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind?
A: Never drop your ruck; be humble. There is a saying that you drop your pack once you’re almost done and beginning to transition out of the Corps. Even if it’s your last day of terminal leave, you are still representing the Marine Corps. You must still uphold the legacy and maintain the rules and regulations set forth by the Corps. I’ve never been afraid to ask for help or guidance, and I teach the same to my Marines. Never think that you know it all or you can do it by yourself. Be humble and seek that help or leadership when you need it.
Q: Do you have a parting message you'd like to share with Marines?
A: Ruck up and always take a full 30 inch step. Train, lead, and mentor our Corps.