MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada made a stop in Camp Lejeune today to visit with the 2nd Marine Division leathernecks of 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Tank Battalion, and 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion to mark their return home from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“It’s always a pleasure to get in front of Marines,” said Estrada. “The commandant and I appreciate the sacrifices you are making to serve.”
Estrada highlighted numerous topics in his discussions with the Marines, including the importance of career retention. He expressed his appreciation for the Corps making its fiscal year 2005 retention goals in every military occupational specialty except one, missing the reconnaissance Marine retention goal by two Marines.
“I want to thank and credit the leadership and career retention specialists for taking care of our Marine Corps,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Bill L. Stephens, career retention specialist, 2nd Tank Battalion, credited the dedication and motivation of the individual Marine for meeting the retention mark. Many of those who met with Estrada today had re-enlisted while in Iraq, he said.
“I think that says a lot about those Marines. They were in the fight, they submitted their packages and they re-enlisted,” said Stephens.
Another major issue touched on by the Corps’ top enlisted Marine was the awarding of the Combat Action Ribbon, given to sailors and Marines who “have actively participated in bonafide ground or naval combat with hostile enemy forces,” according to the Navy and Marine Corps awards regulations. The criteria for this award have come under public scrutiny recently.
“There is a lot of inequity in how the Combat Action Ribbon is awarded,” said Estrada. “We need to take a look at it because warfare has changed.”
The sergeant major highlighted circumstances, which have clouded the water concerning the award, established in February 1969.
“We’ve had instances of two Marines that get injured in the same vehicle. One gets, the Combat Action Ribbon, one doesn’t,” he said.
These scenarios were discussed in detail, he said, during a recent platoon sergeants’ symposium, where changes were recommended.
“I’m not going to speculate on what changes, but there will be some,” he said. “Policy should be coming out in the next few months.”
Also on Estrada’s slate for discussion with the Marines was off-duty safety. In October 2005 alone, there have been four deaths as a result of motor vehicle accidents, three of which were from motorcycles. He expressed the commandant’s and his frustration with losing Marines and sailors in liberty incidents only shortly after returning from combat.
“We are known for taking care of each other on the battlefield, but we’re not doing a great job of it back here at home,” Estrada said.
The Marines given the opportunity to meet Estrada in his visit were honored, said Pfc. Byron E. Smith, a 21-year-old Sterling, Va., native and driver, Headquarters Section, Company A, 2nd Tanks.
“It was pretty motivating. I saw him in the pictures at boot camp but I never thought I’d see him in person,” said Smith.
Estrada handed out several commemorative coins, called “sergeant major coins,” to Marines in recognition of outstanding performance. One of these recipients was Cpl. Louie Castro, battery clerk, Battery F, 10th Marines.
“It felt very good,” said the 21-year-old Fresno, Calif., native. “It brought a lot of motivation. It really makes you feel good about yourself.”