After watching John Wayne's portrayal of Sgt. Striker in "Sands of Iwo Jima," Sgt. Maj. Gonzalo Vasquez was inspired to join the Marine Corps. Today Vasquez is the sergeant major of the Staff Noncommissioned Officer's Academy on Camp Hansen. (photo on April 19, 2009)
| ||CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan (4/30/2009) -- Sgt. Maj. Gonzalo Vasquez has a unique way of holding Marines' attention. At the highest enlisted grade in the Marine Corps, when he talks, Marines listen. To capture the warrior mind, he doesn't just want their attention - he takes their attention. |
Even if he has to break out in song and dance to do it.
At a recent dinner where Marines celebrated a successful combat training evolution, Vasquez was the guest speaker. He went beyond fancy words and famous quotes. He jumped on tables, he heaped praise on the junior Marines, and he had the attendees performing warm-up exercises in the middle of his talk. Not one Marine or sailor could possibly fall asleep in the talk. Nobody even looked away for a second.
The body of Vasquez's Marine Corps career is injected with motivation and it began at an early age.
All American Boy - From Belize
It started with John Wayne.
Although born in the Virgin Islands, Vasquez was raised in Corozal Town, Belize. As a young man Vasquez paraded around his home town with a toy rifle.
As he grew older, he dreamed of being in the military and joined the Boy Scouts.
After watching the movie "Sands of Iwo Jima," around 12 years old, he wanted to be like John Wayne's character, Sgt. Striker - a Marine. Vasquez began to walk to the library, in Belize, so he could read about the Marine Corps in the encyclopedia.
After graduating high school in May 1983, he was a welder before taking the trip to Los Angeles in Feb. 1984 for one purpose - to fulfill his dream of being a Marine.
Early in his Marine Corps career, he tried out and successfully completed the indoctrination for the highly trained reconnaissance community. It was then that he began to develop his leadership skills and tactics from his mentors.
"I've done all the commando type stuff that most Marines join the Corps to do and I'm thankful for that," said Vasquez. "There's a mystique about recon, they have special training and more specialized equipment to get the mission done."
Being trained in one of the Marine Corps' specialized units taught Vasquez the importance of physical conditioning; high standards, military discipline, and fueled the fire of his leadership potential.
The Family that Binds
Finding a balance in personal life and work life is something that can be extremely difficult while in the military, but Vasquez has found a way to nearly perfect it through communication and keeping his family involved in as many areas of his life as possible.
Vasquez attended Marine Security Guard School in 1992 where he met his wife when they were both students. They went their separate ways when he went to the U.S. embassy in Cameroon and she went to Tanzania. Although they were both stationed in Africa, they would not meet again until she visited him before getting out of the Marine Corps. After returning to the states, they were married and now have a 10-year-old son.
He says his wife is his best friend, advisor and mentor to this day. He also sees a lot of himself in his son who already is a Boy Scout and has run a triathlon.
"It takes a lot of communication," Vasquez said of his family life. "They play a huge role in my life, and because we have such a strong foundation, it sets me up for success at work."
Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk
The super-charged sergeant major's motivation comes from a variety of places.
He has attended well over 50 civilian and military schools and courses, including the six-month U.S. Army Special Forces "Green Beret" School.
He took this knowledge and used it during four combat tours including Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and the initial surge into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He's been there, done that. His presence is not only felt by his junior Marines, but also by his senior officers.
Vasquez's former commanding officers are quick to point out his unique leadership philosophy and how it contributes to the way he leads from the front.
"Vasquez brings infectious enthusiasm and dedication to everything he touches," said Col. Matthew R. Cicchinelli, commanding officer of Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. "His personal path to the rank of sergeant major is characterized by triumph over adversity and he uses his own ascension through the ranks to teach his Marines that, by applying themselves, anything is possible."
The goal-oriented, detail-driven mind set is his tool for success.
"He's tenacious, driven to achieve his goals," said Lt. Col. Curtis A. Strader, wing air control officer for 1st MAW. "He's one of those Marines that sets his mind on something and goes after it. He's also smart about it. Knowing you can't reach a goal in a day, week, or even a year, but still staying on track and not giving up. That's Sergeant Major Butch Vasquez."
Molding The Marine Corps Chain
The walls in his office are decorated with his awards, achievements, memories and recon paddles. His education has molded him into the leader he is today as the director of the Staff Non-Commissioned Officers Academy.
As the director of the SNCOA, Vasquez has the opportunity to share his experiences and instill his leadership skills in hundreds if not thousands of Marines every year.
"Leaders are first and foremost servants because we serve those we lead," said Vasquez. "We're given this rank as a privilege to serve and assist and help and train the younger Marines. How lucky am I to have the special privilege to help shape and mold the future of our Corps. One leader at a time, we will stimulate the body and mind, motivate the Marine and educate the leader."
He seems to truly believe anything is possible.
"If you knew you could accomplish everything you wanted, what would hold you back from trying everything?" said Vasquez. "Why don't we live our lives like this everyday?"