MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The Marine Corps is an institution dedicated to duty and encompasses a commitment to excellence. This includes excellence in one’s work, excellence in physical and mental conditioning, and excellence in leadership. One of the foundations of leadership in the Corps rests within the noncommissioned officer, the backbone of the Marine Corps who ensures the successful completion of the mission.
Even among such a group of elite leaders, there are an exceptional few who stand out. For these individuals, the possibility of being named NCO of the year becomes a reality. It is this NCO who has best demonstrated the leadership traits, principles and ethos of the Marine Corps.
To be eligible for such an honor, an NCO must have first class physical and combat fitness test scores, service proficiency/conduct marks of 4.5/4.5, respectively, as well as two years of service as a gray belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. The NCO must be professional, physically and mentally ready for any challenge, and able to inspire Marines.
Such a person must be a shining star among an already elite fighting force. Not an easy task by any measure, even for the most experienced Marines.
Sgt. Roberto J. Perez, a squad leader with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, proved his ability to stand out among his peers. Not only is he an exemplary Marine, but on Feb. 16, 2016 at Camp Pendleton, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal by Lt. Gen. David H. Berger, Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force, for being named the I MEF NCO of the year.
Perez enlisted in 2008 and reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. He completed his job training at School of Infantry East that same year.
“I had always wanted to give something back to this country,” said Perez, a native of Miami. “I felt like the Marine Corps was the perfect opportunity to do that.”
Little did he know just how much he would be giving back. When sharing his thoughts about winning the award, Sgt. Perez simply laughed and said, “It was the most humbling experience of my career.”
The award was not a surprise to some considering the accomplishments Perez had during two combat deployments.
“I was with him on both deployments,” said Staff Sgt. Miguel Bustos, a platoon sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “Even when there was downtime, he was always the first to step up and help his Marines, whether it was earning their next belt in the [Marine Corps Martial Arts Program] or just helping them get better organized with their gear.”
Perez says the Marine Corps lifestyle can be tough, but he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I simply love waking up to this,” said Perez. “I love waking up to being a Marine.”
Perez has an impressive amount of accomplishments. He was a chief scout swimmer with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and led over 124 patrols during Operation Enduring Freedom as a team leader with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment . He also marched in over 143 ceremonies at the Pentagon, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Navy Yard, the Capital Square, and the White House during his first tour at the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC.
Even with all of his accomplishments, Perez still says that getting to meet President Barack Obama was probably the most incredible experience of his career.
“Getting to meet the president was a huge honor,” said Perez. “It’s not every day that you get to shake hands with the commander-in-chief.”
When he’s not busy shaking hands with the president, Perez is devoted to his development as a Marine.
Whether it’s working on drill or helping Marines with combat or swim qualifications, Perez finds ways to push his career forward. Although taking on so many responsibilities can be rewarding, it can also be very time consuming.
“The military lifestyle can be taxing,” said Perez. “I’m very lucky to have such a supportive family who is always there for me, and I’m especially lucky to have the support of my fellow Marines.”
Perez says that his Marines serve as an inspiration to him, but the Marines who work with Perez are just as inspired by his actions.
“He’s the complete package,” said Staff Sgt. Jessie Pearson, a platoon sergeant with 2nd Bn., 5th Marines. “He goes hard at absolutely everything he does.”
Perez shows no signs of slowing down either. On top of attending American Military University, he is working on a Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program package to become a commissioned officer.
While not every Marine can be named NCO of the year, all Marines can strive to better themselves on a daily basis. With individuals like Sgt. Perez paving the way, there is no limit to what the Marine Corps can accomplish as this nation’s elite fighting force.