AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
Sometimes in life, people are lucky enough to find a mentor whose experience and wisdom follows them throughout their careers and makes a personal impact on the way they live their lives.
Three years ago, Maj. Chris Messineo was teaching Economic Geography to the midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy. The course covered the effects of globalization, shifting political boundaries and containerized shipping on national and global economies.
Today, Messineo works as the II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward) logistics and supply officer aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, where he works to retrograde millions of dollars worth of Marine Corps equipment from Iraq and is still extolling the virtues of the 20-foot shipping container, which the former teacher will inform any inquiring Marine was invented by Malcom McLean in 1965.
In September 2009, Messineo discovered that the 20-foot shipping container was not the only thing from his Economic Geography class that would follow him to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Two midshipmen that had attended Messineo’s class, Sean Knapp and Robert Caldwell, now first lieutenants, are also deployed to Al Asad.
Knapp and Caldwell are route clearance platoon commanders with Company B, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion. At the Naval Academy, both were varsity athletes and leaders among their peers. Caldwell was the defensive captain of the Navy football team his senior year, while Knapp, a varsity wrestler, held a number of key billets during various summer training events.
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 2007, Knapp completed The Basic School at Quantico, Va., and then checked into Courthouse Bay at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for Combat Engineer Officer’s Course. Upon completion of the course, he moved to Twentynine Palms, Calif., to check into Company B, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, and begin training his platoon.
Caldwell, who also graduated in 2007, was assigned to the Naval Academy as a second lieutenant to help coach the Navy football team. Once the football season ended, he attended The Basic School and Combat Engineer Officer’s Course, and arrived to Twentynine Palms in March 2009 to begin preparing his Marines for their September deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Though Knapp and Caldwell have gone through many advancements and changes since they graduated from the Naval Academy, they still remember their time in Messineo’s class and the example he set for them as a Marine officer.
Both first lieutenants have the utmost respect for their former teacher, and Knapp even credited Messineo for his success when he said, “I would not be a commissioned officer if it hadn’t been for Maj. Messineo.”
“He was a great economics instructor, but he spent time mentoring future Marine lieutenants and discussing current events that Marines were involved in back then,” recalled Caldwell, who attended Messineo’s Economic Geography class in 2006, during some of the most vicious fighting in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
When Messineo, who is also a graduate of the Naval Academy, is not busy tracking generators being shipped to Afghanistan or coordinating support for one of the countless units for which II MHG (Fwd) is responsible, he still finds time to check up on his former students .
“How are my two knuckleheads?” he asks with a laugh. Once the jokes die down, though, Messineo always leaves his students with a few kernels of wisdom: “Seek advice when you need it, and don’t be afraid to make decisions.”
Messineo has left his mark on Knapp and Caldwell and continues to make a difference in the Marines’ lives. He began by teaching them an economics class and now takes time to stop and ask them how their day was.