USS RUSHMORE, At Sea --
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 successes are 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.
At a glance Staff Sgt. David Long looks a man who’s close to retirement. His hands are callused and rough from years of working with his hands. His hair starting to turn gray from the stressors of a mentally and physically demanding job, his face careworn, and his voice slightly hoarse from the countless Marines he’s instructed over the past 16 years of service in the Corps.
The saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” applies to Long; make no mistake he is very much in his prime. He’s a Marine who can still run and gun with his platoon, and demands that his men give their all every day. His leadership style commands the attention of those within ear shot and inspires those who listen.
The 35 year-old from Queens, New York, believes Marines perform better when they have a Marine leading them that they can emulate. He demands the best of himself and knows how to get it from those he leads.
In this interview Long, platoon sergeant with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shares how his leadership style developed, and how he’s managed to stay on top of his game for all these years.
Q: What inspired you to enlist in the Marine Corps?
A: I always wanted to be a Marine. I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was, but every time I saw a commercial I would think that that was what I want to do. For me, it was the best thing in the world, because I wanted a challenge and I knew I would get that as a United States Marine.
Q: You’ve served 16 years, why have you stuck with it?
A: Because I love it. The camaraderie you get, the experiences you get to share with other people, and the opportunities that are available you can’t find anywhere else. We get to ride around in helicopters, fire big guns, and be in the same maneuver space as tanks and [AAV-7 Assault Amphibious Vehicles]. A lot of people only get to see these things on T.V. I couldn’t have gotten to see the places I’ve seen anywhere else. Nowhere else would I have been able to visit different countries and train with their military and see how they operate. Even the rough times create a bond with your Marines that you won’t experience anywhere else. I’ve never had better friends than the ones I’ve had in the Marine Corps.
Q: Why did you decide to go infantry?
A: Really I just wanted to defend my country. It’s a little bit of that patriotism that I think everyone has, and if I was going to join the Marine Corps then I was going to go infantry. At the time I didn’t know why you would want to do anything else. The whole Marine Corps is developed around the infantry, why would you want to be a Marine and not want to be in the fight. Of course, as I got older I realized that everyone plays a role in the success of the Corps. We couldn’t do our job if we didn’t have the support we have from other [military occupational specialties]. If I had to do it again, I’d pick the same route.
Q: You are very outspoken and when you speak people listen. Was that a trait that the Corps instilled in you?
A: I’ve always kind of been like that. I think it’s kind of a family thing. In my family, if you had an opinion on something you spoke it, and backed it up with facts, or else you were never going to do what you wanted to do. That’s something I try to teach all Marines. It’s not enough to have an opinion on something; you have to be able to back that opinion up with facts. Do it tactfully, but know your job so you can bring something to the table. Nobody’s perfect. I don’t mind if a [private first class] tells me something as long as their tactful about it, and they can back it up with facts. To be a good leader you have to be outspoken. You have to be able to bring things up to people that you may not want to in an uncomfortable situation, because there may come a time in the battlefield where there is a better way to do something, and you have to be able to back it up with facts from doctrine, because that can ultimately lead to saving lives.
Q: What would you say is your style of leadership?
A: I’m not sure I can put a word on it. I can tell you that I demand the best from everyone, because that’s what I demand from myself. I want every Marine to know their job and perform it to the highest standard, because that’s what ultimately leads to success. Success can mean anything from winning on the battlefield to bringing everyone home from a mission.
Q: What is one of the most important lessons you preach to your Marines?
A: To know their job and to execute it as best as they can. As grunts, we rely on each other to accomplish the mission.
Q: Is being a staff noncommissioned officer harder in an infantry unit harder than a non-infantry unit?
A: I don’t think it’s harder. It’s just different. I’m not going to say one job is harder than the other. For example, [amphibious assault crewman] work extremely hard to keep their vehicles operable. I always see them down in the ramps working long hours to make sure they are mission capable, and they do an outstanding job of it. Everyone does their job to their best of the abilities. I will say that in the infantry the [staff noncommissioned officer] and officer relationship is different than other [military occupational specialties]. The platoon sergeant and platoon commander relationship plays such a crucial role in the fight. They have to be in sync to have success. Whereas in other fields that I’ve seen staff NCO’s take care of the day-to-day operations and get things done, and officers are separate and maybe they’ll come together once a week. In the infantry we are out there every day together training and enduring the same hardships. In that way, we’re different.
Q: What is your expectation for your Marines on this deployment with the 15th MEU?
A: My expectation for this deployment is that my Marines don’t become complacent while on ship. It can be a challenge being on a ship. I don’t want them to forget why we’re here and what’s expected of us. It’s hard because we don’t know where we’ll be or what we’ll be asked to do, so it’s important that they stay ready to act on a moment’s notice. I also want them to walk away with a better understanding for how important the nature of our job is. Not just to America, but to people around the world.
Q: How have you managed to keep going and not lose any of your speed or desire for your job?
A: I love what I do, and when you love something it really does bring out the best in you. It pushes you to stay on your game. I want to leave this institution better than what I joined. I want to give the next generation of Marines an ideal to strive for. They are the reason why I give it my all every day.