VALLEY CENTER, Calif. --
In the midst of flashing lights, ringing bells and sleep-deprived gamblers at Harrah’s Resort in Valley Center, a row of men and women wearing their best formal evening attire walked through the chaos of the casino. The distinguished group escorted their dates, who were dressed to impress, as they made their way to gather for a professional dinner. While people outside the ballroom threw money at slot machines and black jack tables, Marines and sailors with I Marine Expeditionary Force stood proud as Stacie Black sang “I’m Proud to be an American” to kick off the event.
Sergeants major, master gunnery sergeants, and command master chief petty officers with I MEF came together Feb. 25 for a dine-in hosted by Sgt. Maj. Bradley Kasal, the I MEF sergeant major. The E-9s were from all four elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force: command element, air combat element, ground combat element, and logistics combat element.
“My intent was to get everyone together to foster camaraderie and develop a unified team, as we are all in this together,” said Kasal. “I also wanted to remind them of who they are … Americans. On our name tapes, before Marines, is U.S.”
After Stacie, wife of Sgt. Maj. Troy Black, the 1st Marine Logistics Group sergeant major, concluded the opening song, each table introduced senior leaders filling up the seats.
Among dozens of Marines and sailors, there were three distinguished guests from each part of the MAGTF; Master Gunnery Sgt. Phillip Bemis, Master Gunnery Sgt. Ronald Talamantes, and Master Gunnery Sgt. Jody Wiemholt. Bemis is the Battalion Operations Chief at 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Talamantes is the G-3 Motor Transportation Chief at 1st Marine Logistics Group, and Wiemholt is the Maintenance Chief with Vertical Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232. These Marines were hand-selected by their units as distinguished guests because of their professionalism and character.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Frank Pulley also joined the leaders at the dinner as their guest speaker. Pulley’s Marine Corps career spanned over 30 years, his last active duty assignment being the 1st Marine Division’s sergeant major. He was transferred to the retired list on Feb. 1, 2008.
Pulley works to assist military veterans and transitioning service members with the hope to reduce the overall unemployment, under-employment, and homelessness rates. In May 2011, he founded Military Veteran Solutions, which collaborates with other veteran-friendly supporters such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. He serves as an advisor and consultant for their Hiring Our Heroes program.
Pulley explained how unique the Marine Corps organization is. He said despite being eight years removed, he still has not found an organization as great as the Corps. He still finds himself surrounded by Marines, whether it is speaking to groups or working with MVS.
This dinner gave the Marines and sailors a rare opportunity to create a heightened sense of patriotism and camaraderie within the senior enlisted leadership and further instill pride of belonging to, and being a part of the Marine Corps and I MEF team.
“Being able to interact with the leaders from all commands in the MEF lent to a greater respect and team mindset for all,” said Black. “This was also benefitted by the humble reminder of what we serve for … the United States of America, our families and our way of life as a free nation.”
Black explained that camaraderie is the most important result of any gathering outside the work environment. In this setting, Marines can break down the normal apprehensions of interacting with rank and billet and conversations can revolve around personal, rather than strictly professional affairs. This tends to build and strengthen relationships, making I MEF a stronger team.
“The senior leadership needs to think, act, believe, and perform as a team,” said Kasal. “We need to stick together and stand by each other. If one of us is in the fight, we all are. If one of us needs help, we all chip in. If senior leadership cannot, how can the rest of the MEF?”
This professional dinner not only fostered camaraderie but helped develop social, communication and people skills that an effective leader must possess. Kasal explained this was an opportunity he had to look each one of them in the eye and thank them for what they do.
“It was my way of saying thank you for service to Country, Corps, and MEF,” Kasal said.