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 throughout the MEU.
Gunnery Sgt. Arthur Abrego Jr. believes actions speak louder than words and takes a hands on approach to mentoring his Marines. The 28-year-old from San Antonio believes Marines gain a better perspective on what it means to be a Marine by having a strong leader they can emulate.
In this interview Abrego, company gunnery sergeant for Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 15th MEU, shares how his leadership style inspires Marines and has led to his success in the in the infantry community.
Q: What inspired you to enlist in the Marine Corps?
A: My father-in-law, who retired from the Air Force, influenced me. I started doing a little more research on it, and my father-in-law told me, ‘You’re never going to know if you like it, unless you try it.’ So I rolled the dice and enlisted. I chose the Marines because growing up I was always head strong and a part of a team, and from what I knew the Marines had that same brotherhood I had with my teammates. That camaraderie is what ultimately made me stay in. Next to starting my family, it was the greatest decision I made.
Q: What did the Marine Corps do for you?
A: It gave me direction. I graduated from high school in 1994. Afterwards, I worked in construction and had a lot of on-and-off jobs. I didn’t have anything stable, or any goals set. When I came in the Marine Corps, I got direction, and started preparing my life for the next level.
Q: You rolled the dice, and you’ve stuck with it for 18 years; what have you enjoyed most?
A: What I like the most is the Marines I work with and the ones I get to teach. I feel like I’m closer with these guys than my own family because we’re always away together and you establish a close relationship with your buddies that you work with every day. We all have a lot in common like our values, work ethic, and having to endure the physical and mental strain. All of that helps you build a strong brotherhood that makes it difficult to walk away from.
Q: How did being head strong help your transition into the Corps?
A: In the Marine Corps you have to have the initiative; that drive to keep going forward and not fail. You’re going to fail – but it’s knowing that despite failure, you will succeed. This is the attitude I’ve always had, and that’s the attitude I instill in every one of my Marines. Everyone in their life fails, it’s how you recover from it that defines who you are.
Q: What is one of the most important lessons you preach to your Marines?
A: All the lessons I teach are important, but one that I seem to preach the most is being decisive. Don’t be afraid to make a decision because you may be right or wrong. Make a decision. If it’s wrong learn from it and move on. Failure to act is still an action, and it’s usually the wrong action.
Q: How did being older than most Marines when you joined affect your leadership?
A: I was the oldest guy in my [School of Infantry] class, so I always tried to show the Marines the right decisions to make. I mean, I was still kind of young, but I think at 18 [years old] you’re not really thinking of the consequences. Everybody knows the right thing to do. Everybody knows they can do the right thing, and everybody does the right thing when someone is watching. It’s about doing the right thing when no one is watching. As Marines we can’t afford to live that way. The job we’re tasked to do requires the best of us. It’s another lesson I teach the Marines I’m responsible for.
Q: What do you expect form your Marines?
A: The same thing that was expected of me when I came through: Instant obedience to orders, ask questions, and seek out the knowledge. If I don’t know something, I’m not going to just sit there and bitch about it. I’m going to get up and ask someone who does know.
Q: What do you expect from yourself?
A: I expect to give my Marines an example for them to emulate; to give them the best of me, and never give up on them. These guys look up to us. It’s almost like being a parent sometimes. I don’t want to fail them. That’s my biggest fear.
Q: What is the hardest part about being a company gunnery sergeant?
A: Keeping up with these young guys. I’ll be 40 in a couple of days and I feel like I’m double that some days. If we have a company run or a [physical training] session, I’m in the gym early to make sure my body is warmed up. They’re young and I remember when I was in their shoes and I would run by my platoon sergeant or company gunny. Now it’s me getting passed and that’s hard to accept. Don’t get me wrong, I can still run and gun, but it’s just a lot harder than before.
Q: How are you preparing your Marines for deployment with the 15th MEU?
A: Not only meeting all of the MEU commander’s goals and expectations, but making sure we prepare for anything and everything, like making sure they’re on track for promotions. Also making sure they know how to train and mentor their Marines, so they can continue to uphold the legacy those before us have given us.
Q: Do you feel that your numerous combat deployments have made you a better leader than someone who has none?
A: It makes me appreciate the small things. I think a good leader is going to always try to make you better. My experiences have shaped my style, but the end state remains the same; make better Marines.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve been successful?
A: Yes, my long term goal was to retire at 20 years as a gunny. I’ve already reached that. I’ve met every goal I’ve set for myself. A lot of credit goes to my senior leadership coming in. I have no regrets. If I could and my body would let me, I would do it all over again.
Q: If your Marines take one lesson from you what would you want it to be?
A: Take command and make a choice.