SUBIC BAY, Republic of the Philippines -- For two days, the group of over 25 Sergeants Major discussed policy concerns, customs and courtesies, and how to better lead and serve their junior Marines. They shared old sea stories, presented classes, and reveled in the camaraderie that can only be understood by those who dedicate their lives in service to their country.
Sergeant Maj. Robert Caldwell, sergeant major of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Sgt. Maj. G. A. “Butch” Vasquez, sergeant major of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, participated as guest speakers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Senior Enlisted Seminar and the Sergeant Major Course Class 07-2012 at the AFP Command and General Staff College, Oct. 11-12.
At the invitation of the Sergeant Major of the Philippine Marine Corps, Caldwell and Vasquez presented a variety of classes on topics ranging from the conduct of enlisted professional military education to the organization of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. The sergeants major are in the Philippines in support of the 29th iteration of the Philippine Bilateral Amphibious Landing Exercise and they quickly jumped at the opportunity to spend time with their counterparts from the Philippine Marine Corps.
“We, as a Marine Corps, talk a lot about interoperability and building relationships,” said Sgt. Maj. Vasquez, a native of Corozal Town, Belize. “The chance to come to this Philippine Sergeant Major symposium and build personal and professional relationships just puts the icing on the cake.”
In addition to the class presentations, the Sergeants Major also had an opportunity to speak with more than 100 Philippine Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen who had been selected to the highest enlisted rank of their respective service before enjoying a bountiful reception. Despite the different uniforms and backgrounds, the Marines found a common bond in carrying the weight of being their respective nations’ expeditionary force in readiness.
“There was no ice-breaker necessary; there’s no mystery in who we are as Marines, whether that’s a U.S. Marine or Filipino Marine,” said Sgt. Maj. Caldwell, a native of Spartanburg, S.C. “We were students being taught by seasoned, experienced warriors who have dedicated themselves to their Corps; I definitely feel as though I took more away from this symposium than I gave.”
The timing of this year’s symposium allowed the U.S. Marine guests an opportunity to witness the retirement ceremony of the top enlisted service member of the AFP, First Chief Master Sergeant, Edilberto Lustre. Lustre joined the Philippine Marine Corps 37 years ago and has served as a sergeant major at every command level while deploying numerous times throughout the Philippines.
“It was an honor to have our (U.S.) Marine brothers-in-arms join us for this symposium,” said Lustre. “We always look forward to sharing ideas, identifying issues that affect our junior Marines, and presenting new concepts for future exercises and operations. I know that we all benefitted from our discussions and presentations.”
Planning is already underway to expand the U.S. Marine participation in future symposiums and seminars, including the addition of other senior enlisted U.S. Marines. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to come together under a common purpose to develop a better understanding of the roles of a Sergeant Major,” said Caldwell. “Any time we can integrate our ideas and practices will result in future success, whether in an exercise or real world operation.”
The 3rd MEB and 31st MEU will continue training in support of PHIBLEX 13, a regularly scheduled bilateral exercise that is scheduled from 8-18 Oct. The 3rd MEB, commanded by Brig. Gen. Craig Timberlake, is headquartered at Camp Courtney, Okinawa, and is a mid-sized, scalable MAGTF that can be quickly tailored to address any mission or contingency. The 31st MEU, commanded by Col. John Merna, is based at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region as the only continuously forward deployed MEU.