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The Commandant General Royal Marines, Maj. Gen. Charlie R. Stickland, visited U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command Feb. 12, 2019, to discuss future bilateral training opportunities with the Commanding General of MARFORCOM, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis.

The meeting was an opportunity for the two senior leaders to strengthen the long-standing rapport between the services while also speaking about current and future operational advantages gained from training together.

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The Trained Killer

I was stationed at Subic Bay, Philippines, 1967-1971, and provided Technical Services to the fleet on weapons and weapon systems. I was assigned to ComFairWestPac, Cubi Point.

There were several Clubs at Subic Bay. Two of the Clubs were the Cubi Point Officers Club, and the Skyclub at the Marines MAU Camp on the hill. The Cubi Point Officers club was a formal, quiet, and sedate club where Naval Aviators gathered to frolic.

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General Victor Krulak

I was visiting with the Gunny at the Recruiting Station in Flagstaff the other day, and he handed me the article that spoke of the passing of General Victor Krulak at age 95. Tears came to my eyes, as I recalled this unique, and most impressionable officer I have ever met. I had served as a Drill Instructor from 1957-1959, and at the end of my tour on the Drill field, I was given an assignment to Sea School at MCRD, San Diego, as an Instructor.

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Saved My Life

It was a Friday afternoon in November 2008 just after Thanksgiving. I stopped in the Worcester, (MA) Detachment Marine Corps League for a beer or two in the Leatherneck Lounge. The only one there was the bar manager Marine Joe Ricci. Within five minutes one of our few remaining WW II vets, Marine Carlo Mastrototaro came in and sat beside me at the bar. Within two minutes the door opens and the second WW II vet Marine Walter Maloney enters and sits next to me on the other side.

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Regular People

Sgt Grit.-

I have a story that I am certain every Marine can understand how exactly it was we felt. I am currently deployed with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines with a group of 23 Marines from 12th Marines Regiment in Okinawa, Japan. We are a small unit and don’t see any action, just supporting the command and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. Thanksgiving day rolling around for us means a good meal at the chow hall (one that’s not either microwaved or fried) and an extra 6 hours spent out on the road escorting some “Distinguished Visitors” from the US Congress. (I know most people probably have never heard of OEF-Philippines. But its real, Google it.)

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The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, issued a call to action to all “disruptive thinkers” within the Corps. A cultural evolution, filled with Marines that can come up with solutions to accelerate ideas to decision makers, that will lead the Corps into a new age of innovation.

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You can find Marines in any clime and place, but one place you don’t expect to find them is behind the scenes working at a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

Marines with Motor Transport Platoon, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, have been working as apprentices with service technicians from car dealerships in the Southern California region for more than twenty years.

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The building has withstood the test of time. It has seen generations of Marines enter and leave its halls. It has seen Marines off to several wars from the shores of Pacific Islands, the mountains of North Korea, the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of the Middle East. It has served as the operational and cultural epicenter of the 1st Marine Division- the most storied and consequential Division in the United States Marine Corps. It has seen its share of history both for the division and the Corps.

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Quiet strength: One Marine’s mentorship

Hey, knuckle-snacks. You suck.”
Gunnery Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe leaned over my shoulder, scrutinizing the half-completed video project open on my laptop. It had been a long few days of shooting an air assault exercise, and I was finally sitting down to make sense of the hours of footage I have accumulated.
“What’s going on with your color grading? You call that matching action? Where is my continuity?” He leaned back, exhaling a puff of frustration onto the back of my head. “Your work is garbage, bro,” he spat dismissively as he stalked back into his office.
“Aye- Aye, Gunnery Sergeant.” I smiled.
Observing both his methodology and his path through life, Ezekiel Kitandwe is anything but conventional. Born and raised in Uganda during the reign of the notorious military dictator Idi Amin, he was no stranger to hardship before joining the Marine Corps.
“I was the last-born of eight siblings, living in the capitol city of Uganda,” Kitandwe said. “In those days, we would always travel with our father. It wasn’t for our safety; it was for his. They were less likely to make you disappear at a military checkpoint if you had young children with you.”
Kitandwe and his family were members of the Muganda tribe, one of the many ethnic groups that were displaced and persecuted under Amin’s reign.
“Kampala, the city I’m from, was, to put it simply, a warzone,” Kitandwe told me flatly. “By age 8, I could tell what weapons were firing by sound. That’s an AK, that’s a PKM. That’s far away, we’re good, you better duck, that’s flying right over your grape.”
Kitandwe first saw the Marines in action in 1986, when Amin was overthrown and the simmering conflict was brought back to boil.
“Those Marines on Marine Security Guard at the American embassy, they were the cool kids,” Kitandwe said. “When I saw them empty out that embassy when everything was starting to pop off again, getting all those Americans out of there safely, I just thought to myself, ‘These guys don’t play.'”
At the behest of his father, Kitandwe immigrated to the United States in his early 20’s to attend college on a basketball scholarship.
The disparity in cultures was immediately evident to Kitandwe, he said.
“Acclimatizing to American culture was definitely a process. People were worried about the strangest things. You have food, transportation, and a place to stay, and you’re losing your mind over some little monthly bills?”
The reality of American life came with some other challenges, Kitandwe said.
“I couldn’t figure out for the longest how to work those damn pay phones,” Kitandwe said, laughing and shaking his head. “I put probably 20 dollars in quarters in the damn thing, and then I was still like ‘Okay, so now what?”
Kitandwe spent the next four years working different jobs in the United States before finding a Marine Corps recruiter.
“I was tired of going nowhere,” Kitandwe said. “I knew there had to be something more. I walked into the recruiter’s office, and ten days later I was at Parris Island.”
Trading the warzone he endured as a youth for that of his new nation, Kitandwe deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. While deployed with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Kitandwe earned a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Valor. The citation describes how a then Staff Sgt. Kitandwe posted security and defended a compound from direct insurgent fire with only one Marine under his charge, accomplishing the role of an entire Marine Corps rifle squad.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” Kitandwe said reluctantly. “I truly believe I was only doing my job as a Marine.”
His decorated blues coat and record of valor is not what makes Kitandwe a great leader of Marines, however; it is manifest through his genuine investment in those under his charge.
“He stands out, not the first time you see him, maybe not the second, but once you have observed his actions, his emotions, his charge, it’s incomparable in a lot of ways,” said Sgt. Alex Kouns, the platoon sergeant at Marine Corps Base Hawaii Communication Strategy and Operations. “It’s something Marines greatly benefit from experiencing.”
Kitandwe exemplifies everything that is right with the doctrine of the Corps. He is tenaciously proficient, disciplined, and gives every fiber of his being to his ideals of the total Marine concept. Many leaders loudly preach the lofty standard that is expected of Marines, yet with Kitandwe, there is no need. He lives it, humbly, in plain view of his subordinates. His friendly, quiet strength commands more respect than any righteous belligerence ever could.
“He doesn’t manhandle you, if that makes any sense,” said Kouns. “At the same time, he’s still attentive, and takes care to promote creative thought, to guide, and to educate.”
It was 4:30 p.m. I had just received my monthly counseling as a lance corporal, and saw that my proficiency and conduct marks had each dropped a point. It wasn’t terribly significant, but I was livid. The justification read, “said-named Marine continues to advance himself both in MOS and general Marine proficiency, yet lacks motivation to work as a cohesive team member.”
As I sullenly packed away my things and bolted for the door, Kitandwe stopped me.
“Hey, Cool Kid,” he said quietly as his eyes pierced me.
“You good, bro?”
It was 7:00 p.m. We were in his office, and the light from the Hawaiian glass-slat windows had nearly faded.
I had spent the last couple of hours outlining my case against the unjust counseling, while evading the fact that I had in fact become withdrawn, moody, and distant. I tried to overshadow this with the deadliest of all weapons in Marine Corps logic: statistics. I was producing more products, faster than any of my peers, I argued.
I finished, and there was a silence. Kitandwe rolled a pen through his fingers aimlessly before piercing me again.
“What do you want,” he said.
What did I want?
It was a simple question, but it wasn’t posed as one; he delivered it as more of a challenge. I tried to steer toward safer waters, and began listing things I’d like to see changed about my work flow, but he cut me off.
“Is that what will make you happy? You’re obviously unhappy. What do you want,” he asked again.
I cursed inwardly. My route to the shallows had been cut. Kitandwe forced me into black, turbulent waters I’d been avoiding for months. It wasn’t a challenge from him, as I had previously thought, but a suggestion to challenge myself.
Without knowing why, I spilled.
I told him of a host of problems I had been struggling to bury. Sleeplessness. Constant frustration and anger- So much so, I worked myself into unconsciousness at the gym, waking to an officer dragging me off of the exercise bike.
And he listened.
I thought of my goals, what I would have to do to get there, and everything that had to change. He offered his insight on more than my development as a Marine, but my development as a human being. That was how he handled things. It was the balance of my internal weight scale that he fine-tuned within myself and every Marine with his insight and calm demeanor.
Recently, Kitandwe received his promotion to master sergeant. With the rank, an assignment to a new duty station is imminent. Although my time serving beneath him is coming to an end, I will always be thankful for his mentorship, imbued with quiet wisdom and a healthy dose of playful mockery- and I’m sure the next Marines he leads will be, too.

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