CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA --
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan – A U.S. Marine attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was recognized as a recipient of the 2020 United States Marine Corps Motor Transport Awards Program, on Camp Hansen, May 11.
On behalf of the commandant of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Kaleb Smith, an automotive maintenance technician with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, was awarded the Motor Transport Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. He was also commended by Col. Michael Nakonieczny, the 31st MEU commanding officer, as he presented Smith with a challenge coin witnessed by a multitude of leaders within the unit.
“It was a surprise,” said Smith, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee. “Winning the award humbled me, and I am just grateful. I’m not the only one out there turning wrenches, staying focused and dedicating a whole lot of work into getting the trucks up and running for the mission. So, I just thought ‘why me’ because I see it in a lot of Marines.”
According to the awards Marine Administrative Message, the selection process was extremely challenging due to the highly qualified, professional and competitive nature of all individual and unit nominees. It additionally mentions that the nominees are deserving of the highest respect and gratitude for their hard work and dedication to the motor transport community and mission.
“For the past two years he has been a force multiplier on and off ship,” said Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Billet, the motor transportation maintenance chief, with the 31st MEU. “No matter what he is doing, he is always impacting the mission. He is one of the best Marines that we have here. The length of his time here at this unit is coming to an end, and I hate to see him leave because whether it's physical fitness, his uniform or anything he does, he does it above and beyond.”
According to Billet, every day Smith goes out and helps other Marines by correcting their mistakes and then sharing his experiences. He continued by emphasizing that because of Smith’s skillset as a mechanic and vast understanding of the equipment, it becomes embedded into the other Marines by which he takes his personal time to mentor and train.
“You’re getting dirty all day; the work does not stop,” he said. “It is a lot of hours, a lot of dirty and a lot of sweat, but it is just a grind.”
Smith’s daily role is to inspect the vehicles coming into maintenance to ensure that the functionality of each part is operating at the required guideline status. In conjunction, he has previously helped fulfill an administrative role of ordering parts, closing service requests and a number of other tasks.
“Especially for more technical vehicles, I will take a Marine underneath my wing and show him the ropes,” said Smith. “I will guide him and try to make him the best tech that he can be. To me, mentoring these Marines keeps your unit together and keeps everyone alive when it's go time. Overall, it helps exceed expectation and accomplishment within the mission, and I feel like the MEU does a good job of that.”
Smith explained that he has spent hours studying the function of numerous motor vehicles. From the schematics of troubleshooting to the hydraulics system, he has taken the time to understand how each piece fits together to work as one unit.
It is not unusual for Smith to dedicate his time to widening his realm of knowledge and passing it on to his fellow Marines. Billet explained this is one of many reasons why he was nominated for the award.
“I believe I won the Motor Transport NCO of the Year because of the leadership that has guided me to being the mechanic technician I am today,” said Smith. “I could not have done it without them. It is a constant grind and hustle, so it takes time to adapt, but it pays off in the long run.”