Photo Information

U.S. Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, pose for a group photo in front of the General Sherman Tree at Sequoia National Forest during a leadership retreat by Kaweah Lake, California, May 26, 2021. The three-day retreat in the Sequoia National Forest focused on connectedness and personal growth to increase individual and unit resilience. It provided participants with the tools and resources to shape their units' training programs, build character and equip their peers and subordinates with greater life resiliency skills. The interconnectedness of the roots of the Sequoia trees is a metaphor for the network of Marines and sailors that rely on each other through every rank and life situation. The trees are also a metaphor for unit Esprit-de-Corps that expands across a much larger national network. This inaugural retreat set the foundation for future, similar events that will include conditioning events, lectures, guided discussions and guest speakers. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Aidan Hekker)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Aidan Hekker

Roots: The Sequoia Corps - I MEF Information Group Connects in the Sequoia National Forest

22 Jun 2021 | Lance Cpl. Aidan Hekker I MEF Information Group

THREE RIVERS, California -- As Marines, it is our interconnectedness, the state of being connected to one another, which can be attributed to victory on and off the battlefield. However, our mutual trust and teamwork lies beyond the call of duty. It must envelop our daily lives if we are to continue to grow as the nation’s most prestigious fighting force.

Ten staff non-commissioned officers (SNCO) assigned to I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group (I MIG) were handpicked to participate in a three-day leadership resiliency retreat as part of I MIG’s efforts to strengthen and grow our Corps’ most valuable asset; the Marine. Sgt. Maj. David M. White, I MIG sergeant major, led the retreat with the objective to build their knowledge on the concept of interconnectedness and a leader’s role in shaping the environments in which their peers and subordinates function. In doing so, they were provided with interpersonal skills, or tools, to go back to their units and further equip their fellow Marines with individual resiliency and value based leadership skills.

During the trip, numerous guided discussions were held covering topics such as critical thinking, intentionality, relationships, and legacy. Self-reflection and communication were also described as vital practices on the road to becoming more competent leaders. However, these are only the first stepping stones toward the development and success of one’s unit.

The retreat was held in the deeply rooted forest of the Sequoia National Park. Home to some of the largest trees in the world, the Giant Redwood Sequoias. These enormous trees made us feel small, reminding us of our vulnerability and the reality of the natural world which surrounds us.

The real phenomenon, however, lay just below the ground. Unlike many other trees, Sequoia Redwoods have no tap root, the central dominant root responsible for stabilizing plants to the earth. This leaves their limited root systems extending only 10 feet deep on average. This elicits the question; how can something weigh thousands of pounds, stand hundreds of feet tall, battle through storms, fires and earthquakes and rarely fall over? The answer lies in their interconnectedness.

The Sequoia Redwood Trees cannot survive on their own. Their roots are intertwined, allowing them to hold each other up. A collective that is strong individually and even stronger together. Like the Sequoia Redwoods, every Marine is interlocked, relying on each other to survive in this world. One Marine is formidable. One Marine Corps is unstoppable.

On the morning of the first day, we ventured roughly six hours north of Camp Pendleton. There, we established what would become our home for the next 48 hours on a small, secluded campground. Comrades, yet strangers. We set up our tents and quietly convened around the picnic tables. It was there that our journey began, on a confined peninsula, extending into the serene freshwater body: Kaweah Lake.

Personal stories were shared and ideas were challenged. Dr. Lelia Brady, I MEF director of preventive behavioral health, dared us to explore our values with intentionality as well as our relationships with ourselves and others. We broke bread conducting most of our guided discussions around a campfire, which our guest speaker, Col. Garth Massey, staff officer for I MIG, appropriately called “fireside chats”. A concept decades old which offers an environment where leader and participants are immersed in conversation.

Every Marine had the opportunity to share their philosophy on leadership and interconnectedness within their units. All came with unique leadership styles and various experiences when it came to educating their Marines. The goal of the trip, however, was not only to expand the ideologies of SNCOs but to open the door for other units, both active and reserve, in the future. In order to do this, the participants would have to bring their experience back to their units and, at the very least, incite curiosity about the trip.

It is, of course, not only active duty Marines who become part of this interconnectedness. Once a Marine, always a Marine, no matter the capacity in which one serves. It is the very interconnectedness of Marines that never dies, whether serving as part of the active component or the reserve component. Even when one decides to hang up their uniform for good. Remaining vigilant in leadership and loyalty to overall mission success is vital and deeply integrated with the efforts in bringing up America's young men and women and placing them back into the world as better, more well-rounded individuals. This effort then transcends across the world, further strengthening our very roots.

Although Col. Brian T. Rideout, commanding officer for I MIG, could not be with us on the excursion, he gave us an important mission. “Become the best versions of yourselves, so you might inspire others to do the same”. A concept that is well known throughout the Marine Corps yet not always so simply achieved.

As Marines we should always strive to be better and constantly evaluate our own performances.

The goal for this endeavor was to create opportunities to further shape the environments in which our Marines live and work, and enhance the competency of I MIG leaders.

“My desire is for I MIG leadership to become capable of developing strong trust based work environments which foster the growth, development, and resiliency of our unit’s Marines in order to increase unit efficiency and effectiveness in future operations”, said Rideout.

Like the roots of the Sequoia Redwoods, our interconnectedness will make us stronger as an organization and this starts with unit leadership.

On the second day, the participants of the leadership resiliency retreat hiked over nine miles through the trails of the Sequoia National Park. During this time, they reflected on personal goals and experiences while enjoying the beauty of the forest around them. With this, came reflections on their leadership skills and the legacies they wish to leave behind.

“It is inspirational. Getting out of your comfort zone in a beautiful environment, it was eye opening,” said Gunnery Sgt. William Zahorak, one of the ten participants of the retreat. “I really hope that not only this unit but every other unit implements this because the Marines deserve it. The Marine Corps deserves it.”

The culminating event of the trip was seeing The General Sherman Tree firsthand. At 2,200 years old it stands 275 feet tall and weighs 1,256 metric tons. A spectacle in its own right. Though it is not the tallest or the widest tree in the world, its volume makes it the “biggest”. According to the National Park Service, a federal government agency that manages all national parks, if you were to fill its trunk with water, you could take one bath every day for 27 years.

Having open and honest conversations can be a difficult thing to do, especially around people you have just met. However, our ethos supports us through any endeavor. As the participants discovered through the two day event, sharing an honor-driven culture as Marines establishes comradery leaps and bounds further than any civilian enterprise. Our mutual understanding of Marine Corps traditions and values helps solidify our connectedness and makes it easier to communicate with one another. Dr. Brady challenged us again with the opportunity to reflect on our legacy and what we want our lives to represent.

The next mission for these Marines is to plant the seeds of inspiration, further extend these roots back to their units and share the knowledge of Marine Corps Interconnectedness.