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 crisis 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.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Torain Kelley, from Fort Worth, Texas, developed his leadership style throughout his 25 years serving in the Marine Corps. The prior operations chief for 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, is now the operations chief with the 15th MEU and is gearing up for his thirteenth deployment. Kelley’s determination to be the best he can be and drive for success has set him apart from his peers and molded him into an inspiring Marine.
In this interview, he shares how his leadership has developed and what it takes to be a good leader.
Q: What inspired you to join the Marine Corps?
A: The challenge. This was something people told me I couldn’t do, that it was the hardest branch in the military and I wouldn’t be able to do it. They said I wouldn’t last the first four years. I’m the type of person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll try my best to prove you wrong. It also had a lot to do with the pride to be able to say “I’m a Marine.”
Q: Have you always been a good leader?
A: I consider myself a late bloomer. Some kids come in and they get this thing right off; natural born leader. I was just one of those kids that hung out in the back and tried to look dumb, thinking they won’t ask me to do anything. I thought, “I’ll just be dumb and lift heavy stuff.” I was just that average dude: if there was a crowd of Marines I’d just be there in the middle. I thought I was going to do my four years and get out. The first year I was on shaky ground, same with the second year. But the third year, one morning it hit me. I got it together, did okay, and I just built on that. Through the years, there was a lot of falling down and getting up, but I just keep getting up.
Q: How has your leadership developed throughout your years in the Marine Corps?
A: My leadership style is learn to approach everybody differently. Every Marine has their own unique, different personality. If you try to approach a Marine in a way that’s not in-tune with them, you’re going to get that wall. They’re going to say, “Aye master gunnery sergeant,” but when they walk away, did I make an impact? Probably not. Once you learn to approach Marines differently, that’s where leadership comes into play. If I leave, if my Marines say anything about that old, crazy master gunny, I want it to be that he did care.
Q: How do you improve your leadership?
A: I learn a little bit from everybody. Like you guys watch me, I watch you. Juniors, seniors, peers, enlisted, officer, I watch everybody. I see the good things that they do and I take it, put it in my little bag of tricks and I keep it. All the crap that I don’t like, I put it in the trash can. That’s what I’ve done over the years.
Q: Is there a difference between leading Marines in an infantry unit versus being in a command role?
A: No, a Marine is a Marine. Marines are going to do what you tell them to do. The only difference is in an infantry battalion you’re working infantry events and in a command elements you’re working command and control in order to control those subordinate units. Marines are great no matter where you go. If you give them the proper mentorship and the proper guidance and you always keep it real and tell the truth, they’re going to do what they have to do to be successful.
Q: How has your leadership helped you succeed?
A: I don’t define success with rank. I define success with the way my Marines progress. If my Marines are successful, then I guess I’ve been successful. If anything, it’s just pure experience. Waking up every day, putting this uniform on and trying and wanting to be successful. Wanting my Marines to be successful and doing the best I can for the Marines I have to take care of. I realized that it’s not about me, there’s a bigger picture. It’s about the young Marines I’m leading so they can be successful.
Q: What made you stay in the Marine Corps?
A: Junior Marines. It’s not about the money, it’s about carrying on traditions and helping Marines progress. What we hand down to you guys now is what you’re going to take and you’re going to hand it to the next generation. It’ll keep this institution that we call the Marine Corps going. We live on our traditions. We talk like the Navy, we fight like the Army and we fly like the Air Force. When I look at you young kids I think, “they need me,” but If I’m not here to take care of them, who will?
Q: What advice do you have for junior Marines?
A: As a leader, when I approach them I have to keep it real. Don’t sugar coat it, this is the way it is. But at the same time tell them to hang in there. You’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. For every one bad day, you’ll have seven good days. The trouble doesn’t last. As young Marines, we all want to get out the first four years, but that last year you realize you can do this.
Q: If you had to label your leadership style, what would you call it?
A: I’d call it “me”. Keep it real. Truth. My style is whatever the truth is. Or whatever I have to do to help that person and put them on the right path. Let’s face it, you would hate for your leader to tell you to do something that you’re going to fail at. You’d hate for a leader to tell you something wrong. We have to lead by example. My leadership style is “follow me.” Get behind me and let’s go. If there’s a fire fight behind me and you ask me where to go and I point to the fire fight, that’s where we have to run to. You can believe I’m going to say, “Everybody get behind me, when I run, you run. Just keep running.”