MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII (1/28/2013) - The smell of fresh morning air permeated throughout the empty hallways of the 3rd Marine Regiment headquarters building here. Around 6:30 a.m., Sgt. Maj. Justin D. LeHew, regiment sergeant major, arrived at his office to prepare for the oncoming day of work that wouldn't end until about 6:30 that evening.
Sgt. Maj. Justin D. LeHew, 3rd Marine Regiment sergeant major, stands with Ohio Department of Veterans Services Assistant Director Jason Dominguez after being inducted into the hall of fame, May 4, 2012. LeHew is a recipient of the Navy Cross. Photo by by USMC Cpl. James Sauter
On the walls of his office hang numerous decorations and each tells a story from his 24 years in the Marine Corps. Among these include several photos of him and other Marines, a campaign cover from the drill field at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, a framed guidon from 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, a mounted Ka-Bar knife and time zone clocks for Hawaii, Okinawa and Afghanistan. But discreetly sitting in a corner of his office is a chest, filled with various items including plastic toy soldiers, unit patches and even a 19th century bayonet. But barely visible to an eye's quick glance is a Navy Cross, sitting precariously among the items.
In the course of his career, LeHew has been a highly inspiring Marine to his peers and has received recognition for his outstanding service, including being accepted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor on May 4.
Responding to a comment that there was a lot to look at in his office, LeHew humorously said his office is organized this way for two reasons - because his wife and daughter like to decorate his office when he checks into a new unit and both of them don't want to have these things in the house. A self-proclaimed family man, LeHew said the majority of his character is based on his early life experiences while growing up in Columbus Grove, Ohio.
“The town that I grew up in was a small, farm town where everyone knew everyone, all the way from kindergarten through high school,” Lehew said. “It was a very work ethic place to grow up and that work ethic is a big piece of who I am today.”
For Lehew, his life in high school was almost like the movie “Hoosiers” except he played baseball instead of basketball. A joy that stood out in LeHew's memory was that he kept his childhood friendships from the time he was young to the time he graduated
Columbus Grove High School, who's mascot is coincidentally a bulldog. Another factor that influenced LeHew's upbringing was the strong family bond that he had, especially with his father. His father served in the Army and was a D-Day survivor of the initial landing on the beaches of Normandy. He later joined the Air Force and finished out his career. LeHew's father met his mother in Columbus Grove and despite their 15-year age difference, married in 1949.
“Along with growing up in Ohio, my relationship with my father is also a huge part of who I am,” LeHew said. “Even though my time with him was cut short, since he died when I was 13, I credit him with the work-ethic I have. I worked ever since I was in single digits and all the way through high school. I remember my father saying, ‘I'm responsible for you boys until you're 18 years old and then you don't get to come back to the house, except to visit. At that point, you need to make a life for yourself and for someone else.'”
Knowing at the age of 18 he would be moving out of the house, LeHew knew he was going to join the military. His father cautiously advised him not to enlist in the Army and to try the Air Force. During his enlistment swear-in, LeHew was pulled aside and told that he only qualified for two jobs in the Air Force because of his color-blindness. Feeling sorry for himself, Lehew was approached by a gunnery sergeant who said, “what the hell are you doing?” and when LeHew was about to answer, the gunnery sergeant said, “get on your feet when you talk to me.”
“No one ever talked to me like that before,” LeHew said, reciting that exact moment as if it just happened. “The way he carried himself, the way he talked and the way he looked was completely different from all of the armed services. That experience led me to the Marine recruiting office and I joined the Marine Corps.”
As a young Marine fresh from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and a new amphibious assault crewman, LeHew said every platoon sergeant he came in contact with was always the person that set the example for him and his fellow Marines. Despite rarely ever seeing any officers or company first sergeants and sergeants major, LeHew strived to emulate his platoon sergeants and he learned, “you're always there and you're always available for your Marines.”
LeHew carried the responsibility of taking other Marines with him into the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. When the war started, LeHew remembered a lot of Marines worried that they were going to miss the war. But after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, LeHew knew war was approaching again and he soon led his own platoon during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On March 23 and 24, 2003, LeHew's amphibious assault platoon pushed north toward An Nasiriyah to rescue soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company. LeHew led his platoon through heavy enemy fire to assist in the evacuation of four soldiers. During the evacuation, LeHew climbed back into his vehicle and suppressed enemy infantry advancements. Later during an attack on an eastern bridge on the Euphrates River, LeHew's courageous battlefield presence inspired his fellow Marines to continue fighting a determined enemy and allowed him time to position his platoon's machine guns to repel waves of enemy attackers. During the battle, an amphibious assault vehicle was destroyed and LeHew worked for an hour to rescue Marines from the wreckage while still under fire. For his actions, LeHew was awarded the Navy Cross.
When asked about his experience in combat, LeHew humbly said, “Marines will do what they're trained to do, regardless of what anyone may think of them or any issues they have. If you train your people properly, then your Marines will continue to amaze you with very courageous acts. A lot of those acts aren't recognized because they happen so fast. I'm a firm believer that some of the greatest actions in military history have never been captured on paper.”
LeHew was promoted to sergeant major in the fall of 2007 and assumed the post of battalion sergeant major for 1st Reconnaissance Battalion whom he deployed with to Iraq. After later serving as the Amphibious Assault School sergeant major, he assumed the post of the 3rd Marine Regiment sergeant major in April 2011.
“Looking back now as a sergeant major, I still view the Marine Corps as the best that it has been,” LeHew said. “I still view, as some of my greater accomplishments; being a crew chief at the age of 19; being a drill instructor, which Sergeant's Course and the instructors prepared me for; also being the platoon sergeant for the platoon that I went into Nasiriyah with. I just enjoy the camaraderie of working every day with Marines.”
His wife routinely notices her husband's dedication and attentive care he provides for her and their daughter.
“I can't begin to describe the amount of joy I feel for all that he's accomplished, I'm very proud of him,” his wife said. “There aren't enough words that can really describe it all. What he's done for his Marines and for us is wonderful — he's my hero.”
In addition to his many duties, LeHew still invests time to be with his family.
“For me, the idea of family always comes first,” LeHew said. “My family knows that, and when it comes to time being with them, there's nothing more in this world that I love more than being a husband and a father.”
LeHew, who enjoys boating and skydiving, said that despite his numerous recognitions, he was proud to say none of them changed his principals as to who he is as a person but was really surprised to have been accepted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor.
“When they told me that I was being inducted into the hall of fame, I was so happy because I haven't been back to Ohio in years, and I found my hometown to be [the same] as I remember. During the ceremony, there were 16 other service members from World War II, Korea and Vietnam being inducted with me. These guys are my heroes and from a young age I knew the military and the Marine Corps was the way for me.”
By USMC Cpl. James Sauter
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