USS ESSEX --
Like many Marines, Staff Sgt. Joshua Milhorn joined the Marine Corps straight out of high school. His inspiration to join began with his grandfathers, who both served in the Navy, as well as his first martial arts instructor who served during Vietnam.
Milhorn, from Bristol, Tennessee, is an aviation ordnance system technician with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit during their deployment aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2).
He started leading before the Marine Corps, growing up with two younger brothers. However, throughout his 11 years in the Corps, his leadership has changed and improved due to his leaders and the Marines under his charge. During deployment, he volunteered to be an instructor in every corporals course hosted on the ship.
In this interview, Milhorn explained how his leadership has developed and the importance of beginning leadership early on in a Marine’s career.
Q: What inspired you to join the Marine Corps?
A: Pretty much just like everyone else in my generation, I joined after 9/11. I remember when it happened. After the World Trade Centers collapsed, I was on the football practice field playing and I just couldn’t think of anything else except for this country is probably going to go to war. That Friday night, I remember being on the field and hearing the national anthem and just being like, that’s what I want to do; I want to join the Marines.
Q: Why did you want to join the Marines over the other branches?
A: I think it was the command presence. My parents told me to go talk to every branch to see which one I want. I talked to the Marines first and I remember it was a staff sergeant. He had this impeccable command presence and definitely grabbed my attention right away. I was almost in awe by the way he was able to carry himself; he was only about [five-foot five-inches] but when you looked at him you’d think he’s 6-feet-tall. I talked to the other services but none of them had what I was looking for. So I went back in, talked to the Marine Corps some more and I knew at that point that he wasn’t trying to sell the Marine Corps to me, it was already there. I knew that’s what I wanted to join.
Q: Would you say you were a natural leader or was it something you had to work hard at?
A: I would say I already kind of had leadership qualities, I was the oldest of three. I always wanted to take charge of my brothers, so to speak, and kind of lead them in growing up through life’s obstacles. But when I joined the Marine Corps I had to learn kind of quick. That’s one thing that I take pride in is that even if you’re in a bad obstacle, you need to take pride in who you are and what you do and know that it’s your legacy that you’re leaving behind.
Q: How did your leadership develop throughout your career?
A: I would say that I learned through the leaders I had, initially. My first leader I had after getting to the fleet was a corporal. He expected a lot from me but we disagreed on a lot of different platforms. He expected me to do my [professional military education, or PME] and my [Marine Corps Institute courses] and try to prepare myself as much as possible for boards and to better myself as a Marine and as a human and I didn’t understand it. But, as I started picking up more rank, I didn’t have that blinder view. I started seeing the whole spectrum and made those adjustments as I needed. I started getting that perspective, the same one he had, and I was able to learn from my Marines. It wasn’t just my leaders that had influence on me; it was also the Marines I had under my charge. They kind of guided me to be the leader that I am now and to have those different approaches to different Marines.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: I guess I would say command presence and compassion. With that command presence, you’re able to take charge of a large group and for all eyes to be on you. When you give the word, the word is followed to a T. I think that command presence is definitely what sets leaders apart. With compassion, I am very passionate about being a Marine, but I am also very passionate about taking care of my Marines. So it’s not yelling and screaming all day long, you also have to know those Marines and you have to take the time to get to know the Marines around you. Not necessarily just inside your [military occupational specialty] but Marines that are outside entities. Get to know them as well to kind of influence you in a better way.
Q: What do you want your Marines to get out of your leadership?
A: I hope they get the courage and ability to come up with their own style of leadership. I know not every Marine is like me, and I’m not like every other Marine, but everyone develops their own leadership style. I hope the Marines in my charge are able to take away the courage to find out who they are as leaders and as Marines and be able to implement that to their day-to-day leadership styles and activities.
Q: What made you want to instruct the corporals course on ship?
A: When the first course started, things with my job were slow and I wanted to do something that meant something. I take a lot of time going to the gym and doing martial arts in my free time, but I needed to do something to contribute to the Corps because I’m not taking this [deployment] as just a cruise. I felt like I had a duty to perform something that the Marine Corps benefited from. That’s what inspired me to do that. I like having an influence on the future leaders.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to start implementing leadership in Marines early on?
A: One of my first leaders told me very early on in my career to act at least one rank higher than your current rank. So, as a lance corporal, I should have been acting as a corporal or sergeant and trying to take that role or leadership position and not being afraid to stand out in front of Marines. Our job as leaders is to create the leaders before they need to be in a leadership role so they don’t have to re-evaluate who they are or be trained to be a leader. They should already be set and ready to lead as soon as they get in that position.
Q: How has instructing corporals course benefited you as a leader?
A: We have a number of different MOS’s and backgrounds; everyone has a different story to tell. Having all these different individuals with different personalities in one setting, having a guided discussion and hearing their opinions on things definitely influence how I think or how I’ll look at things. They may have a different opinion on something, I’ll ask them why, and they’ll break it down for me. Even if I don’t agree to it fully, that’s something that I can take in and maybe understand from a different perspective.
Q: Why do you think doing PME is important for the Marines?
A: Marines definitely need to take everything out of it that they can. Some Marines will get more out of some classes than others but there’s networking; getting with those corporals that you’re not with on a day-to-day basis and learning how they think and why they think that way. We are one team, one fight. It’s about camaraderie at the end of the day. We’re here as brothers and sisters and we’re helping each other out.