CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- -- He had been wearing the rank of staff sergeant for almost eight years. That all changed when Staff Sgt Juan A. Morales earned a combat meritorious promotion in Iraq, Sept 16.
Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, Commanding General of I Marine Expeditionary Force promoted Morales as more than 60 I MEF Marines and Sailors witnessed the event at Camp Fallujah. Col. John C. Coleman, I MEF Chief of Staff and Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent traditionally placed the “double rocker” insignias on his collar.
“If you want to go to great heights, you will look no further than this warrior,” Sattler said of Morales. “Somebody to watch, somebody to emulate. Everyday… he exudes confidence.”
Morales is one of nine staff noncommissioned officers who received a combat meritorious promotion. Marines recommended for a combat meritorious promotion must have demonstrated outstanding leadership to a degree rarely attained by Marines of equal grade, according to Marine Corps Order P1400.32C. The order also specifies that leadership performance should justify the Marine being advanced in grade ahead of all other Marines of the same grade, regardless of time in grade or time in service.
Additionally, determination of eligibility for promotion is based on the command’s recommendation, combat performance, and past military record.
Narrowing the selection of 20 outstanding staff NCOs for the nine combat meritorious promotion board wasn’t an easy task, according to Kent, whose command voice carried loudly as he read Morales’ promotion warrant.
“This was a combat meritorious promotion, so we look at the leadership that they have provided for Marines in combat,” Kent said. “That was the key thing for us to make our decision.”
Morales’ combat experience spoke for himself. Morales earned the only Marine reserve gunnery sergeant quota for the combat meritorious promotion board. A Gulf War and two-time Somalia veteran, Morales was reactivated in 2002, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he spent his first nine-month deployment attached to the Navy Sea Bees as a military advisor working with Rear Adm. Charles R. Kubic’s protective security detail and deployed to Camp Commando, Camp Chesty, and Al Hillah. He was called back to serve a 14-month deployment, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Serving as the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of protective security detail, he supervises and manages more than 20 Marines.
The PSD provides the command element mobility and maneuverability around the battle space. PSD Marines focus on convoy operations, immediate action drills, weapons and vehicle maintenance.
Despite the long hours expected of them, Marines speak highly of working at PSD and having Morales as their leader. He’s known, by most of his men, to be tough but fair.
“Most leaders just task Marines, but Gunny Morales is actually out there with us,” said Sgt. Reynaldo L. Philbrook, fire support coordinator for 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liasion Co. “He’s mostly busy assisting the (commanding general), but when he’s free, he’s out there supporting his Marines,” said the Longville, Wash., native.
Morales, a native and resident of Chicago has been in the Marine Corps for 17 years. He has and believes he will always use one method of leading and mentoring his Marines.
“I can’t teach my Marines if I’m not out in the field with them,” Morales said. “It’s been my philosophy since I’ve taken a leadership position in the Marine Corps.”
While deployed, like many Marines, Sailors and Soldiers, he strives to keep the communication lines open with his family. Deployment has been tough on his family, he is quick to admit. He credits his loved ones for his new rank.
Morales believes he wouldn’t have earned the promotion if it wasn’t for the patience, understanding and support of his wife, Ana and his two sons, Zachary and Alexander.
Upon hearing he was in the running for only one quota for his rank, Ana told him the family’s philosophy of the promotion possibility. Ana told Morales a couple days before the final results would be out, “Juan, whether they give it to you or not, you’re still the general to us.”
The Chicago native’s dedication to his every day duties are inspired by his family waiting for him back home.
“I’m committed to this fight because it prevents hostile actions against my children in the future,” Morales said. “As Marines we continue to fight so our families can express themselves freely, in this land of the free, unlike conditions in Iraq set by the tyrant Sadaam Hussein.”
Morales credited his success to the efforts of his Marines.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the PSD Marines,” said Morales. “They get a lot of work done on their own. I just have to guide them in the right direction.
“It’s required of NCOs to give 100 percent, but I push PSD Marines to give 150 percent,” he said. “They might not know they can do that extra 50 percent, but I push them, knowing they can.”
“Gunny Morales motivates us in different ways,” said Sgt. Ranaldo J. Sereal, radio operator for 1st Anglico and native of Jeanerette, La. “One of his ways is through his sayings: ‘Anybody gets in our way, we’ll make them pay!’ one of Morales’ many quotes.”
Some say it wasn’t just the efforts of Morales’ Marines that gave him the edge for the promotion board, it was his first impression in the eyes of his superiors.
“I’ve known Gunnery Sgt. Morales for about four months now,” said Kent. “When I initially got here to Iraq, I was impressed with my first contact with him. He leads by example and mentors his Marines. He has all those qualities that we expect out of senior staff NCOs, even senior to him in grade.”
With more weight on Morales’ collar, his superiors will be expecting more from the newly promoted gunnery sergeant than he has already given.
“I have no doubt he will wear the rank of gunnery sergeant with tradition and pride for all those gunnery sergeants who came before him, the present gunnery sergeants and for the future. He is the future of our Marine Corps,” Kent said