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Sgt. Maj. James Roberts, off-going sergeant major of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, relinquishes the sword of office during his relief and appointment ceremony and retirement ceremony to Col. Tye R. Wallace, commanding officer of the 31st MEU, and oncoming MEU Sgt. Maj. Jim Lanham, Aug. 10, 2016 at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. Roberts retired after 30 years of service, completing his enlistment with a tour as sergeant major of the 31st MEU. The 31st MEU led several humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations across the Pacific region, as well as various bilateral and multilateral exercises with Pacific partner nations, during Roberts’ tenure as the 31st MEU’s senior enlisted advisor.

Photo by Cpl. Tiffany Edwards

31st MEU sergeant major retires, Lanham assumes sword of office

10 Aug 2016 | Cpl. Tiffany Edwards 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Sgt. Maj. James Roberts relinquished the sword of office to Sgt. Maj. Jim Lanham during a relief and appointment ceremony at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 10, 2016. Roberts retired after 30 years of service, ending his career as the sergeant major of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The ceremony came several months after Col. Tye R. Wallace took the helm of the 31st MEU in May, and only a few short weeks before the MEU embarks on their scheduled 2016 Fall Patrol of the Western Pacific region.

“During his time with the MEU, Sgt. Maj. Roberts has had three commanding officers, I happen to be the third that has benefitted from his presence, his partnership and his mentorship,” Wallace said. “Over the course of his career, I know that he has probably trained, influenced or made better tens-of-thousands of Marines who are currently serving our Corps today.”

Roberts assumed duty as 31st MEU sergeant major June 6, 2014. He served as the senior enlisted advisor to the 31st MEU commanding officer, while managing logistics, troop movements and serving as a bridge between the enlisted Marines and their commanding officer.

Roberts gave a special thank you to the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU for their support and hard work during his time at the MEU and for the preparation of his ceremony. Roberts’ gave special thanks and credit to his mother and his wife for his success in his military.

“Thanks to my mother for everything, she raised me as a single parent and had to be mom and dad the entire time, and she did very well,” Roberts said. “And to my beautiful wife of 23 years of marriage, you’ve been with me this entire time, thank you for all your support through all the deployments. You’ve been my rock through everything.”

During Roberts’ time as sergeant major, the 31st MEU participated in various bilateral and multilateral exercises – including Talisman Sabre in Australia; Cobra Gold in Thailand; the Japan Observer Exchange Program with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force; and the Korean Marine Exchange Program in the Republic of Korea – successfully building the 31st MEU’s capabilities as the Marine Corps’ only constantly forward-deployed Marine Air-Ground Task Force in the Western Pacific region.

Roberts also helped lead the 31st MEU through two major humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations during the past year – after Typhoon Souledor hit Saipan in the Northern Marianas Islands, and Operation Chinzei, the bilateral task force with the JGSDF in response to major earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.

For Lanham, who previously served as sergeant major of Recruiting Station Raleigh, South Carolina, and as battalion sergeant major of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, joining the 31st MEU in time for the 2016 Fall Patrol has been a highlight to his career so far.

“To the best MEU in the Marine Corps, I look forward to being here and just being a part of the team,” Lanham said. “There’s a lot of people across the ocean who count on us to do what we do, and by the looks of it, you do it very well.”

Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force and ceremony guest of honor, thanked Roberts and the Roberts family for three decades of service, and welcomed Lanham as the 31st MEU’s senior enlisted advisor.

Nicholson cited Roberts’ experiences during his career working in every facet of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, as a critical reason for the MEU’s success during the past several years.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Marine who more adequately and completely defines what a ‘MAGTF Marine’ is. Sgt. Maj. Roberts has done everything in the Marine Corps,” Nicholson said. “It’s an honor to be here, and it’s hard for us to let you go.”

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