GARMSIR DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan (10/25/2011) —
When Sgt. Maj. Dwight D. Jones enters a room, the atmosphere
U.S. Marine Sgt. Maj. Dwight D. Jones, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment sergeant major
(far right), shares a laugh with Marines of Alpha Company during a battlefield circulation here, Aug. 8,
2011. Photo by Cpl. Colby Brown
Marines become more attentive. Side conversations lower to a whisper
or stop completely. The heavy rank on his collar tends to have that
effect on his junior Marines.
“I don't think [respect] is
something that only a sergeant major should get,” said Jones, a
native of Detroit, Mich. “When I was growing up, someone older with
more influence was given the proper greeting. That's all it is.”
Jones is the sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine
Regiment, and is nearing the end of his second deployment with the
“Getting to the rank of sergeant major, when I
joined the Marine Corps, was not something that I thought was going
to be in sight,” Jones said. “I took it an enlistment at a time. It
wasn't the Marine Corps that kept me in; it was the people in the
Marine Corps. The camaraderie — the esprit de corps — that is what
kept me around.”
Jones has had a successful climb to the top of the rank ladder.
He has participated in nine, six-month or more deployments, three
89-day deployments and has served an additional five years overseas.
Among the many billets on Jones' resume, the more notable ones
include: platoon sergeant, platoon commander, company gunnery
sergeant and first sergeant, Marine Security Forces, Marine Security
Guard, drill instructor, senior drill instructor and series gunnery
Jones has achieved much over his 24 years of
service, but he takes the most pride in his success as a sergeant
major. He has made taking care of Marines and sailors his top
priority, always ensuring they have what they need to accomplish the
“That includes family problems back home, Red Cross
messages, potential injuries or death in combat and administrative
duties that award the Marines what they deserve, good or bad,” Jones
said. “Whatever comes up, I need to have the ability to take care of
He attributes his success in taking care of his Marines
to his ability to lead from the front. Jones would never ask a
Marine to do something that he hasn't done or wouldn't do himself.
He puts this theory into practice, consistently patrolling alongside
his junior Marines throughout the battalion's area of operation.
Conducting battlefield circulations with the 1/3 commanding
officer, Lt. Col. Sean Riordan, is one of Jones' primary
responsibilities. He has made multiple visits to each of the
battalions' 50 or more positions in Garmsir. During these visits,
Jones becomes a part of the unit at that position, conducting
dismounted patrols and experiencing the daily life of his Marines to
better understand their needs.
“To see it, to feel it, to
embrace it and to experience it means being out there, and that is
why I go out on patrol and visit the patrol bases,” Jones said.
“Being out there also gives me the chance to evaluate how the
Marines are doing,” Jones added. “Give them the lessons that I have
learned. Take the good things they do and spread it to other
companies and take the things they aren't doing well and fine-tune
The shared experience and feedback gained from these
battlefield circulations are essential to his role as the senior
enlisted advisor to the battalion commander.
“Any time I
advise the battalion commander I want it to be on point,” Jones
said. “Because it could potentially be the cause of a young man
being saved or a young man being injured or killed. I take it very
Jones has developed a flexible leadership style
during his time in the Corps, allowing him to adapt to any
“You can't lead the exact same way with
everyone,” Jones said. “If you try to be one style of leader, say
authoritarian, you will get your point across but you're going to
fail in other aspects.”
Jones takes it upon himself to be the
first to uphold any Marine Corps standard. This goes deeper than
proper uniform wear or basic customs and courtesies. Jones sees it
this way: if a Marine can't do the small things, like properly
wearing his uniform, then how can they be expected to execute daily
patrols and sweep for improvised explosive devices?
attention to detail,” Jones said. “If you can't do it in garrison
then you won't be able to just turn it on once you get in combat.”
Jones believes that maintaining the traditions of the Marine
Corps is what drives him on a daily basis.
“There is no other
branch of service that looks at their customs and courtesies like we
do in the Marine Corps and it's up to us to keep those customs and
courtesies alive and well,” he said. “It's not about being a Marine
Monday through Friday, it's about being a Marine 24/7.”
round the clock mentality is apparent in his interaction with junior
Marines who only appear to be making small talk
with the sergeant major are actually going through mental checklist
of their appearance and behavior. Jones' brutal honesty keeps his
Marines in check.
It's not about being the regulation police
for the sergeant major. It's telling a Marine or sailor what he
needs to hear to be as successful as possible.
“I tell it the
way it is,” Jones said. “Sometimes it's things that a Marine wants
to hear and sometimes its things that a Marine needs to hear.”
Well aware of the effect this approach can have, Jones is under
no illusion that he holds a special place in the hearts of every one
of his Marines.
“I'm not going to say that every Marine shows
me respect because they love me as a sergeant major,” Jones said.
“As a battalion sergeant major you have roughly 1,400 people under
your charge, so they're not going to know you personally, but they
are going to know you professionally.”
With the hectic
schedule that Jones maintains, he finds time for himself when he
can, staying in touch with his son and sometimes waking up at 4 a.m.
for some quiet time in his office.
Jones often prays with
Navy Lt. Carl Rhoads, the battalion chaplain. During this time of
reflection and prayer, the sergeant major analyzes himself as he
would his junior Marines, checking for weaknesses to be fine-tuned.
For Jones, every day is an opportunity to improve on his
“When I am at the FOB, I ask our battalion
chaplain to offer me a prayer,” Jones said. “It gives me personal
strength. I always look at what I have done and say, ‘did I do
everything I could have?'”
“It can be delicate sometimes
when you're advising someone. It may not be something they want to
hear, but I ask myself if I have struck the right cord,” he
continued. “If you think you know everything there is to know as a
sergeant major then you're going to set yourself up for failure
because you're always, always learning.”
Jones will continue
his work as an advisor and mentor to the Marines in his battalion as
they near the end of their deployment.
“I lead knowing that
America has entrusted their young men to our care,” Jones said.
“It's a dangerous business in what we do, everyday you go on a
patrol there is an opportunity that something bad could happen.
That's just the nature of the business we are in... It is up to us to
set our young men up for success.”
Editor's Note: ‘Through the Ranks,' is a series of feature
articles about a day in the life of a deployed Marine from 1st
Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Each article will highlight an
individual's personal experience through the perspective of his
rank. This is the fifth article of the series.
By USMC Cpl. Colby Brown
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