‘Through the Ranks’ is a series of feature articles about a day in the life of a deployed Marine from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Each article will highlight an individual’s personal experience through the perspective of his rank. This is the sixth article of the series.
GARMSIR DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan — When Sgt. Maj. Dwight D. Jones enters a room, the atmosphere changes.
Marines become more attentive. Side conversations lower to a whisper or stop completely. The heavy rank on his collar tends to have that effect on his junior Marines.
“I don’t think [respect] is something that only a sergeant major should get,” said Jones, a native of Detroit, Mich. “When I was growing up, someone older with more influence was given the proper greeting. That’s all it is.”
Jones is the sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and is nearing the end of his second deployment with the battalion.
“Getting to the rank of sergeant major, when I joined the Marine Corps, was not something that I thought was going to be in sight,” Jones said. “I took it an enlistment at a time. It wasn’t the Marine Corps that kept me in; it was the people in the Marine Corps. The camaraderie — the esprit de corps — that is what kept me around.”
Jones has had a successful climb to the top of the rank ladder. He has participated in nine, six-month or more deployments, three 89-day deployments and has served an additional five years overseas.
Among the many billets on Jones’ resume, the more notable ones include: platoon sergeant, platoon commander, company gunnery sergeant and first sergeant, Marine Security Forces, Marine Security Guard, drill instructor, senior drill instructor and series gunnery sergeant.
Jones has achieved much over his 24 years of service, but he takes the most pride in his success as a sergeant major. He has made taking care of Marines and sailors his top priority, always ensuring they have what they need to accomplish the mission.
“That includes family problems back home, Red Cross messages, potential injuries or death in combat and administrative duties that award the Marines what they deserve, good or bad,” Jones said. “Whatever comes up, I need to have the ability to take care of it.”
He attributes his success in taking care of his Marines to his ability to lead from the front. Jones would never ask a Marine to do something that he hasn’t done or wouldn’t do himself. He puts this theory into practice, consistently patrolling alongside his junior Marines throughout the battalion’s area of operation.
Conducting battlefield circulations with the 1/3 commanding officer, Lt. Col. Sean Riordan, is one of Jones’ primary responsibilities. He has made multiple visits to each of the battalions’ 50 or more positions in Garmsir. During these visits, Jones becomes a part of the unit at that position, conducting dismounted patrols and experiencing the daily life of his Marines to better understand their needs.
“To see it, to feel it, to embrace it and to experience it means being out there, and that is why I go out on patrol and visit the patrol bases,” Jones said.
“Being out there also gives me the chance to evaluate how the Marines are doing,” Jones added. “Give them the lessons that I have learned. Take the good things they do and spread it to other companies and take the things they aren’t doing well and fine-tune it.”
The shared experience and feedback gained from these battlefield circulations are essential to his role as the senior enlisted advisor to the battalion commander.
“Any time I advise the battalion commander I want it to be on point,” Jones said. “Because it could potentially be the cause of a young man being saved or a young man being injured or killed. I take it very personal.”
Jones has developed a flexible leadership style during his time in the Corps, allowing him to adapt to any situation.
“You can’t lead the exact same way with everyone,” Jones said. “If you try to be one style of leader, say authoritarian, you will get your point across but you’re going to fail in other aspects.”
Jones takes it upon himself to be the first to uphold any Marine Corps standard. This goes deeper than proper uniform wear or basic customs and courtesies. Jones sees it this way: if a Marine can’t do the small things, like properly wearing his uniform, then how can they be expected to execute daily patrols and sweep for improvised explosive devices?
“It’s attention to detail,” Jones said. “If you can’t do it in garrison then you won’t be able to just turn it on once you get in combat.”
Jones believes that maintaining the traditions of the Marine Corps is what drives him on a daily basis.
“There is no other branch of service that looks at their customs and courtesies like we do in the Marine Corps and it’s up to us to keep those customs and courtesies alive and well,” he said. “It’s not about being a Marine Monday through Friday, it’s about being a Marine 24/7.”
This round the clock mentality is apparent in his interaction with junior Marines.
Marines who only appear to be making small talk with the sergeant major are actually going through mental checklist of their appearance and behavior. Jones’ brutal honesty keeps his Marines in check.
It’s not about being the regulation police for the sergeant major. It’s telling a Marine or sailor what he needs to hear to be as successful as possible.
“I tell it the way it is,” Jones said. “Sometimes it’s things that a Marine wants to hear and sometimes its things that a Marine needs to hear.”
Well aware of the effect this approach can have, Jones is under no illusion that he holds a special place in the hearts of every one of his Marines.
“I’m not going to say that every Marine shows me respect because they love me as a sergeant major,” Jones said. “As a battalion sergeant major you have roughly 1,400 people under your charge, so they’re not going to know you personally, but they are going to know you professionally.”
With the hectic schedule that Jones maintains, he finds time for himself when he can, staying in touch with his son and sometimes waking up at 4 a.m. for some quiet time in his office.
Jones often prays with Navy Lt. Carl Rhoads, the battalion chaplain. During this time of reflection and prayer, the sergeant major analyzes himself as he would his junior Marines, checking for weaknesses to be fine-tuned.
For Jones, every day is an opportunity to improve on his shortcomings.
“When I am at the FOB, I ask our battalion chaplain to offer me a prayer,” Jones said. “It gives me personal strength. I always look at what I have done and say, ‘did I do everything I could have?’”
“It can be delicate sometimes when you’re advising someone. It may not be something they want to hear, but I ask myself if I have struck the right cord,” he continued. “If you think you know everything there is to know as a sergeant major then you’re going to set yourself up for failure because you’re always, always learning.”
Jones will continue his work as an advisor and mentor to the Marines in his battalion as they near the end of their deployment.
“I lead knowing that America has entrusted their young men to our care,” Jones said. “It’s a dangerous business in what we do, everyday you go on a patrol there is an opportunity that something bad could happen. That’s just the nature of the business we are in… It is up to us to set our young men up for success.”
Editor’s note: First Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghanistan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.
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