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Through the Ranks: First Sergeant
by USMC Cpl. Colby Brown - October 16, 2011

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GARMSIR DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan (10/13/2011) — It's the fourth quarter and the visiting team is up two touchdowns. Their coach calls a team huddle and congratulates them on a good job so far, but the game isn't over. The fourth quarter is crucial and if the players lose their focus they could end the game in defeat.

1st Sgt. Randy Jackson speaks to Marines from his company here on Oct. 3, 2011. Jackson, a native of Girard, Ohio, is the first sergeant for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Jackson has been in the Marine Corps for 18 years and this is his sixth deployment. Photo by Cpl. Colby Brown
1st Sgt. Randy Jackson speaks to Marines from his company here on Oct. 3, 2011. Jackson, a native of Girard, Ohio, is the first sergeant for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Jackson has been in the Marine Corps for 18 years and this is his sixth deployment. Photo by Cpl. Colby Brown
 After six months, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment is entering the ‘fourth quarter' of their deployment, and 1st Sgt. Randy Jackson knows the importance of keeping his company focused on the mission at hand.

“I'm not the typical first sergeant who goes out and addresses his Marines using a lot of Marine Corps terminology,” Jackson said. “I usually break things down by using football analogies for everything. I have found this keeps the Marines attention, and they all usually relate to football. ”

The Girard, Ohio native is the first sergeant for Alpha Company. Just as he is a leader in his company, he is also a coach. For Jackson, the two are one in the same. He played football from the age of eight until he graduated high school, in the same position, on the same team and with the same teammates. Over the years Jackson learned more than football from his coaches, he learned how to lead.
“As I got older, I realized what the coaches taught me over the years not only as a player but as a young man,” Jackson said. “I looked to them more like father figures. I came up in a very small city, so my coaches knew what was going on outside of football as well. My coaches helped developed me into the man I have become today, that is why I want to be a coach ... to develop young boys into men.”

“Today, there are more and more young boys growing up without father figures,” Jackson added. “I would like to step in and be that father figure or role model and help prevent some kids from making mistakes growing up.”

While on circulations of his company's area of operation, Jackson visits individual patrol bases and ensures his Marines have what they need. He huddles with squad leaders and platoon sergeants to pass word and remind them not to lose focus with the end of the deployment in sight.

“It's just like in a football game when a quarterback throws an interception, he goes over to the side line and the first person he talks to is his coach who gets him back on track,” Jackson said. “So when I have a Marine that may need a little more coaching, I get him back on track and back in the game. It is my responsibility to know every Marines' strength and weakness and place them in the company where they will best serve the commander's intent. That's what being a first sergeant is — coaching and mentoring.”

Jackson joined the Marine Corps in 1993. During his 18 years in the Corps he has deployed twice to Iraq, twice on the unit deployment program to Okinawa, Japan and twice to Afghanistan. He has been a senior drill instructor, assistant marine officer instructor at Pennsylvania State University and a sergeant instructor at Officer Candidate School.

As a first sergeant, Jackson is the senior enlisted advisor of Alpha Company. Jackson advises his company commander on everything involving enlisted Marines, from personnel issues to mission essential needs. Jackson's relationship with his Marines is comparable to that of a coach and his players.

“Every Marine that is in my company is my responsibility,” Jackson added. “as first sergeant you're the backbone of the company. You are the go to guy for every Marine in the company, officer and enlisted.”

His style of leadership involves being part of whatever his Marines do, good or bad. No matter the circumstance Jackson supports his Marines.

“As the first sergeant, you have to take responsibility first, anytime a Marine gets in trouble,” Jackson said. “You make sure you have done everything in your power to prevent their mistakes, if not then it's something you failed to do.”

“Like a coach, you give them a play but you as a coach never actually execute the play,” Jackson added. “When they don't execute the plays correctly you make constant corrections. So sooner or later, they execute the plays correctly and they become more confident, which makes me feel good as a leader knowing in the back of my mind I helped mentor them.”

Jackson plans to re-enlist and has a goal of being promoted to Sergeant Major. When Jackson retires, he plans to coach high school football and become a strength and conditioning coach. His passion to coach comes from his desire to pass on what was given to him as a young man.

“The leadership and life lessons that I learned playing football beginning at the Pop Warner level were much more valuable than wins and losses,” Jackson said.

Back home, Jackson has a wife of 15 years and two children, a 14 year-old daughter and an 8 year-old son. When asked if he coaches or leads his family, he said he does neither, “I have a very strong wife. I want to say that I'm the true leader of the family. However, anyone who has been married knows the wife is the true leader of family. Happy Wife, Happy Life.”

For now, Jackson is coaching the Marines Alpha Company through the fourth quarter of their deployment. He will continue to keep his Marines focused on the mission at hand until they arrive back home and the last seconds tick off the clock.

More associated images in frame below

By USMC Cpl. Colby Brown
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2011

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