MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- “Personnel to be awarded, center…march,” commanded the 2nd Tank Battalion’s commanding officer.
Sergeant John J. Washington, a Bronx, N.Y., native, with Company D, 2nd Tank Battalion marched calmly but with precision as he led the two other sergeants into position to receive their Tankers of the Year awards.
With a cool breeze in the air, the 1996 City As School-Queens graduate, and the two others made a right facing movement, placing them at the position of attention, presented a hand salute then cut it crisply after the commanding officer returned his salute.
“Knowing I was being recognized for a lot of the things we do that go unseen meant a great deal to me,” Washington added.
All of those attending the ceremony listened to a citation explaining the actions the three sergeants took and why they were chosen to receive the award, while they were presented with the awards. These three Marines were chosen from among 735 other Marines and sailors who make up the 2nd Tank Bn.
Washington, along with many other Marines from the battalion were deployed in the first stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They started in Kuwait and made their way through large-scale firefights as they entered Iraq for the first time. Washington and the other tankers from the battalion kept their bearing as rounds impacted on and close to their tanks.
Facing many struggles while moving up through Kuwait and Iraq, the three sergeants were part of the first wave of Marines into Baghdad. His crew along with the many others banded together to defeat the enemy as they faced the first of many attacks from the Iraqi forces.
He completed the mission looking adversity in the face and overcoming tough situations with the help of his Marines under his command.
“We were the first group of tanks to move into Iraq and begin facing the firefights,” Washington said.
Much of what Washington has done as a leader has come from his experiences from high school. They taught him to take responsibility and get things done without the need for constant supervision.
With a lack of sports programs in his high school, he had to find a place where he could play sports. He grew up searching out extracurricular events to participate in such as intramural sports. Basketball was one of his favorites to play.
“Our school didn’t have competitive sports, so I had to go out and find a different place to play sports,” Washington said as he talked about his hobbies of his younger years.
Not always having everything available at his fingertips, he made things happen for himself. Taking the responsibility to better educate and train himself during high school helped him prepare for overcoming the challenges of combat.
He has shown responsibility for his actions that have helped him achieve his position as a tank commander. Leading his Marines and teaching them how to become better leaders is one thing he has been able to do from the experiences he has gone through.
Once presented with the awards, Washington and the other two gave a salute, faced left, and marched to the rear of the formation.
All in attendance congratulated the Marines, then Washington and the others gathered together to take pictures with friends and family as the ceremony came to a close.
The Tankers Association, which is made up of many gray haired former tankers, selected Washington as a recipient. They were gathered together from all over the United States. Members of the association, who usually display their red Marine Corps jackets with patches showing where they have been and what they have done, came together to present the awards at the 20th Annual Tanker of the Year Award ceremony.
“It was nice to see an organization who takes the time to recognize us for what we do,” Washington added.
Prior to choosing Washington and the other Marines for the Tanker of the Year Award, members of the association deliberated over who deserved recognition. Washington was surprised to find out that he was chosen. When asked about the best part of receiving the award he felt being recognized for what they do everyday felt really good.
Conversing with the former Marines about his experiences as a tanker, Washington found himself surrounded by people who knew what he did and how important it really was.
He has to make sure his crew is taken care of and are performing their duties correctly while he is doing his duties as a tank commander. Not only is he responsible for his crew, he is responsible for the maintenance of his tank.
“I love being on tanks and doing my job the best that I can. I always wanted to be in a job that would take me to combat, and I am very happy being a tanker,” Washington added when talking about his reasons for joining the Corps.
During the annual visit from the Tankers Association, Washington and many other Marines from the battalion interacted with the former Marines. He spent time explaining the different functions and general operations of the current model of tanks. He was able to take time to talk to them and bring them up to speed on what was happening with the new tanks and how they worked.
Washington also spent time with the Marines as they told “sea stories” from their time in the Corps. Listening to the men speak with enthusiasm about their journeys, Washington and his fellow Marines took in as much as they could and learned from the knowledge that was passed on to them.
“They had good information to pass on to us that will help us grow as Marines and become better leaders,” Washington said.
After taking time to look at the static display, Washington and many other Marines took everyone up to the safety tower to view a live-fire display of the tanks firing on fixed and moving targets. Washington, along with others, explained what was happening, how the tanks were moving, why the tanks shot at certain targets and what types of ammunition was used in practice compared to combat situations.
Many of the former Marines were not familiar with the new technology the Corps was using in its tanks. This offered Washington and others a chance to help explain and teach the old “Devil Dogs” the new tricks of the trade.
“We were able to explain the new things our tanks had compared to what they were use to working with when they were in the Corps,” Washington added.
After viewing the live-fire exercise, more stories about experiences in the Corps were shared. Washington and the other award winners accompanied their battalion and the Tankers Association to lunch back at a mess hall.
With the 20th annual gathering for the awarding of the Tankers of the Year, many stories were swapped and laughter was spread all around. Knowledge and life lessons were passed to young Marines like Washington in hopes that one day they will be coming back to visit and share their experiences.