When a young Marine asked Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy E. Black what it was about the Corps that made him want to stay for so long, he responded by stretching out his arms to the 200-some Marines ringed around him.
“There are a lot of reasons to get out of the Marine Corps. There are 186,546 reasons to stay in the Marine Corps as of this morning’s morning report. That’s every one of you,” Black told students assigned to the Marine Artillery Detachment during his visit to Fort Sill Thursday.
Marines are going to learn new skills. They will mature, and opportunities will show up in their lives outside the Marine Corps. But the biggest reason to stay in is being around other Marines, Black said.
“Hey, Marines, how’re we doing?” he boomed at a semicircle of Marines waiting for him in a courtyard behind one of their barracks.
“Good, Sergeant Major!” they shouted.
“I used to be a drill instructor back in the day, and when the recruits sounded off, I would look at my watch. And however long I heard the echo was how good they did. Y’all got about three seconds out of that,” he informed them.
It took three tries to get a five-second echo, and Black demanded to know why they didn’t do it the first time.
Black said he has a unique opportunity to get around to see Marines everywhere. He was in Twentynine Palms, Calif., Wednesday; Camp Lejeune, N.C., a week ago, and Okinawa, Japan, the week before that.
“It’s my privilege to get everywhere I can and just see Marines. It’s the best part of this job,” he said.
Black has been in the Marine Corps since 1988. Ronald Reagan was president, and the Cold War with the Soviet Union was still on. He was on sea duty aboard the USS Forrestal in the days before the Marines got rid of all their ships. He went from there to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, and deployed with them in support of Operation Desert Storm.
“I am an infantryman by trade, a machine-gunner. I will tell you right now, thank you to King of Battle. Rah!” he said, and the Marines echoed with an “Oorah!”
After Desert Storm he became a drill instructor for a couple of years. For about 4½ years he served in Fast Company, the only unit in the entire Department of Defense that was doing antiterrorism at the time.
His request to go back into infantry took him to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., where the woman who would become his wife almost ran him over in her little green truck. He asked if he could get her phone number. She said, “Get out of my way” and drove past him. As she was driving off she said, “If you want my phone number go find it.”
He did, and his wife is now a retired Marine Corps first sergeant. In between her deployment to Iraq and his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, they managed to have children and raise a family.
About a year ago Black got a call from the current commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, who asked him if he wanted to be sergeant major of the Marine Corps.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know, sir. Let me think about that for a minute,” Black said. “About .4 milliseconds later, which seemed like about 40 years, I said, ‘Hell, yes,’ and here we are today.”
Black told the Marines that 30 years will go by fast, but they will have so many memories “because being in the Marines is the most awesome thing in the world.”
He gave them a glimpse of where the Marine Corps is going to go in the future. This generation has a significant opportunity right now, he said. The Corps is undergoing a change in force design as it prepares to face a peer enemy — one that can meet the U.S. face to face in almost every domain in which it’s possible to fight.
The Marine Corps of 10 years hence will be much different than the one that has been fighting since 9/11, he predicted.
“What an exciting time to join the Marine Corps,” he marveled. “You’re going to see new weapon systems, you’re going to deploy to places you never deployed before.”
As the Marines prepare to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their landing on Iwo Jima, Black suggested they may find themselves back in that part of the world one day.
When a young Marine asked the sergeant major for advice on how to stand out and become a better leader, Black recommended they do everything they can as fast as they can and don’t take “no” for an answer until chow, and when it’s chow time, the same advice applies.