AL RAFTA, Iraq -- The backbone of the United States Marine Corps is its noncommissioned officers. Senior leadership depends on these Marines, more commonly referred to as NCOs, to make decisions affecting the lives of thousands of lance corporals, privates first class and privates alike.
One NCO in particular, Cpl. Shawn Atwood, a squad leader with 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, Task Force 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, leads with honor, courage, commitment while allowing others to learn and become leaders themselves.
“When I became a corporal, my eyes opened up to more responsibility,” Atwood said.
The Anchorage, Alaskan native became in charge of 10 Marines the day he pinned corporal chevrons to his collar.
“Picking up corporal didn’t change me into a micro-manager,” Atwood said. “I didn’t let it get to my head.”
The level-headed Marine learned from his senior leadership that a loud voice isn’t equal to leading by example.
“He won’t ask his Marines to do anything he won’t do himself,” said Cpl. Justin Rubley, a team leader with 3rd Platoon, C Company.
Not only does the 2004 Service High School graduate lead by example, he also listens to every Marine in his squad, new or seasoned.
“Even the privates and PFC’s have important things to say,” Atwood said. “Their words don’t go unheard or unanswered.”
Atwood meticulously plans his missions alone and deep in thought, but encourages input from his squad members because he feels the more ideas, the better the plan.
“I listen to my experienced Marines no matter what rank is on their collar,” Atwood said, “because their collars may hold different weight but its our shoulders that carry the same weight on a mission.”
The squad leader feels Marines with educated opinions make strong leaders because they think in combat.
“If a Marine can step back, survey a situation and act on his own then that means I’ve properly taught him how to be a leader,” Atwood said.
“I try to create thinkers and leaders who still understand the succession of command,” Atwood added.
His squad members are well prepared before leaving their battle position.
“He thinks ahead and makes sure everyone understands a mission before we go out on patrol,” said Pfc. Jason Lim, a rifleman with 3rd Platoon, C Company.
Making sure his Marines know what lies ahead is as important as making sure they have working gear to survive hostile territory.
“Those simple things really matter,” Lim said. “If I don’t have water or enough ammunition then those things can really affect everyone and my squad leader makes sure those problems are taken care of before we leave the battle position.”
He is trained as an infantryman and infantrymen know how to win battles against clearly defined armies. It’s what Marines do. But the insurgency in Iraq doesn’t wear a uniform and it fights among Iraq’s citizens, killing innocent people. The squad leader understands that Iraq’s people need to choose a side and winning them over to America’s side is done with a handshake and a friendly welcome by Marines.
“He understands that being friendly towards the Iraqi people is how we are going to win this war,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew Scheuer, a platoon commander with 3rd Platoon, C Company.
“He would like to see some action but is okay with the fact that no action is also a good thing. That means we’re doing our job here,” Scheuer added.
Atwood knows Iraqis want freedom and are willing to help the Marines to help them have peace.
“You can get a lot more out of a person by treating them with respect,” Atwood said. “That goes for my Marines and the locals here.”