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How I Got Here: Master Gunnery Sgt. McLaughlin

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kathy Nunez/Released)

Master Gunnery Sgt. Lillian McLaughlin wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps since she was small. Now, more than 20 years later, she is continuing to thrive serving her country as a legal service chief. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kathy Nunez/Released)

In 1992, a young woman decided to follow in her father’s steps and stand on the yellow footprints to become a United States Marine.


Master Gunnery Sgt. Lillian McLaughlin lists the top four achievements that helped shape her career.
Faith and Confidence
My major achievement is having the faith and confidence in my family
and our Marine Corps family. To have the confidence and realization that
the family will be there every step of the way, means a whole lot in our
lives. This is a direct reflection in the working/ethical relationships
we establish within the Marine Corps Family as well.
My secondary achievement is seeking self-improvement, not only within
myself … but with the unit cohesion concept as a whole. Working within
the Legal Community, for me — it became a matter of having a solid base
to ensure Legal Services was continually met within the Corps. The
leadership I worked for realized my full potential and allowed me to
pursue my personal goals (Paralegal Degree via off-duty education) and
formal schooling to advance in the ranks. I was taught, that whatever
you are faced and or doing in life … to do your best, at all times.
Achievement in participation as a Detachment Commander in the MSG
Program and a Legal Services Chief both Forward
Deployed and within the LSSS’s.
Achievement in facing the odds, pursuing family goals and realizing
there will be hardships. Being a witness to 9/11 (attached to JA
Division within the Pentagon from June 2001 to Sep 2004), it was and
always has been a personal goal of mine to enjoy life every single moment/day
and not to look back.

Her down-to-earth leadership style and positive outlook made her successful no matter what challenge came her way.

Now she is a master gunnery sergeant and the legal services chief at the Legal Services Support Section on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

Here we borrow fragments of Master Gy. Sgt. McLaughlin’s experiences in her 22 years of service.

(As told to combat correspondent Lance Cpl. Kathy Nunez)


It began with my father. My father was a prior Marine, enlisted. Ever since I was small, it was more of a, “Mija, you’re going to join the Marine Corps, right?”

I went to high school in El Paso, Texas. I loved school, loved sports but really wasn’t looking at going to college. Sure enough, my junior year, I reached out to a recruiter.

When my mother and father found out, my dad was ecstatic and immediately contacted the recruiter and the recruiter was invited to dinner.

I went to boot camp on Parris Island in ‘92. That was my first experience on the East Coast.

I got orders for my first duty station. It turns out that I met my husband there. We got married in ‘96, but the Marine Corps realized, “Wait a minute, we haven’t sent this Marine overseas yet.” So, I went to Okinawa unaccompanied.

I had just gotten married. My husband got out of the Marine Corps, stayed in the Reserves, had a job, wanted to go to school, and that’s the whole reason he got out — he wanted to go to school.

I honestly figured I was going to hate life, but I got to Okinawa, and that really opened my eyes.

I decided to re-enlist. I called back home, and I asked him, “Thinking about reenlisting, you good with that?” He goes, “Yeah!”

So I ended up going to Kaneohe Bay there at the H&S Battalion and worked at that legal shop. My son and daughter were born in Tripler Hospital.

My husband’s really sacrificed a lot. With all of my movements and what have you, he wasn’t able to latch on to jobs, especially when we got here to DC. He had some hard times finding a job. The kids were newborns, and he’s taken a big bite of the bullet on that one.

When I was in Hawaii, I arrived there as a sergeant and left there as a staff sergeant. My staff NCOIC was experienced as MSG and as a det commander. He told me out of any other duty assignment, that was the one. That was the breadwinner.

I went through school; it was a great experience. When it came down to identifying what was available for posting, you get options, just like with anything else. I gave it to my husband and said, where would you like to go, and I think Stockholm was his fourth choice.

I’m from the southwest, I don’t appreciate cold weather. Lo and behold, what do I get? Stockholm, Sweden for 18 months.

There have been some hard knocks. Stockholm, Sweden as a det commander, that was tough.

After Stockholm, Sweden, another 18-month post was South America — Montevideo, Uruguay. I think that was our best post as far as being on the MSG program.

I deployed for just about seven months in 2010. That was rough for the kids. They were alone with dad. Within our MOS it’s very hard to deploy unless you’re in the right spot. It helps just to stay in communication and just let them know that, hey, it’s going to go by fast, and it did.

Each area has always been an experience — just being a Marine. Coming in daily to work, helping out and enjoying the time with my Marine Corps family.

Just enjoy every single moment, every day.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Lillian McLaughlin

Master Gunnery Sgt. Lillian McLaughlin followed in her father’s footsteps by joining the Marine Corps in 1992. Throughout her career, she served as a Marine security guard and the had the opportunity to be stationed in Stockholm, Sweden and Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photos courtesy of Master Gunnery Sgt. Lillian McLaughlin)

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