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. The MEU’s young Marines, dedicated to maintaining a force in readiness, are the building blocks of its success. However, this would not be possible without exceptional senior leadership in the ranks above them.
Staff Sgt. Cassie Utsey’s leadership style encourages independence in her Marines. The 28-year-old from Toxey, Ala., believes Marines gain more experience by taking charge and learning from their mistakes.
In this interview Utsey, the intelligence chief for Combat Logistics Battalion 15, shares how her leadership style inspires Marines and has led to her success in the intelligence field.
Q: Where did your inspiration to join the Marine Corps come from?
A: My dad was a Marine, so really it stemmed from him.
Q: Was this something you knew you would always do?
A: No. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and although I had a scholarship to go to college, we didn’t have enough to cover all the costs. So I joined the military. I didn’t realize how much I needed the Marine Corps until after I joined. The Marine Corps gave me the confidence I didn’t realize I didn’t have at that time.
Q: After 10 years of service, what has kept you in?
A: My daughter. I’m a single mom and the Marine Corps has done a great job providing for us. I want her to have more than what I did, and the Marine Corps has allowed me to do that.
Q: How do you juggle being a single parent, college work and your job?
A: It’s pretty difficult, but my commands have been very supportive. They give me the opportunity to further my education and be there for my daughter. So at the same time my daughter is doing homework, I’m doing homework. It works pretty well that way.
Q: What do you love about your job?
A: The research and learning about other cultures. When I deployed to Afghanistan, I knew nothing about it. I enjoyed learning everything about it. I absolutely love this job.
Q: What would you say your leadership style is?
A: I like to treat Marines like they’re adults. I think if you treat them like children they’re not going to grow or learn. They won’t learn to make decisions for themselves. I allow my Marines to think for themselves and learn from their mistakes. I will never fault a Marine for making a mistake as long as they learn from it. I teach them how to do things, but it’s on them to make it their own and complete the tasks.
Q: What do you expect from your Marines?
A: I expect the very best. I don’t expect them to be perfect, but to give 100 percent. I want them to do their very best.
Q: What do you expect from yourself?
A: The same thing. I would never ask a Marine to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I’ve been where they are. I understand where they are coming from, and I’ll get out there and help with the grunt work. It shows we’re in it together.
Q: Where did your leadership style come from?
A: My dad. He didn’t want to be in my business growing up. He didn’t want me growing up depending on him. He told me I needed to make my own decisions and if I messed up he’d be there to talk about it and lecture me. He taught me how to be an adult very early.
Q: Do you feel like your leadership style has changed over time?
A: Yes. I had the basic foundation coming in, but it’s grown so much. When I got promoted to corporal, I didn’t feel ready. I wanted to be a corporal, but I didn’t know if I was ready. I relied on other Marines that got promoted with me. We’d help each other out, and after a while it felt right. I knew what I was doing, the Marines were being taken care of and work was getting done.
Q: What’s been your biggest leadership challenge?
A: Working for Central Command. As a sergeant there, I wasn’t really treated like one. I went there thinking I’m a sergeant in the Marine Corps, I make decisions. I had to prove to them what I could do. They recognized my hard work and put me in charge of a section that included civilians and joint military. I got that job over a sergeant first class because they saw what I could do. They didn’t realize that because of how we train our Marines, a Marine sergeant is unlike an army sergeant or Air Force staff sergeant. We’re given responsibility at an early rank and are better prepared. Once I got it I had to make sure I kept it.
Q: How are you preparing your Marines for deployment with the 15th MEU?
A: I have never been on a MEU. So what I’m trying to do is get them out so people can see them and know who they are. I really want them to understand that it’s going to be a lot of work and you’re going to get tired. I want them to know their limits and accept that they’re going to have to push past that.
Q: How do you develop your Marines to be leaders?
A: I get to know them and find out where their strengths are, help them realize what they’re good at, and where they can improve. That builds their confidence, which can sometimes be lacking in younger Marines. I teach them to learn as much as possible from anyone that can teach them.