Sergeant Major Reflects on Career
(March 2, 2010)
February 22, 2010 - Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. James Roberts Jr., sergeant major of Headquarters and Service Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, enlisted in November 1980. After 30 years of service, Roberts plans to retire Sept. 1, 2010.
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, Feb. 25, 2010 – After a 30-year military career, Marine
Corps Sgt. Maj. James Roberts Jr. is hanging up his uniform for the last time.
His fellow Marines here say Roberts leaves behind a legacy of Marines who have
learned and carry on his traditions of being a leader who truly cares about his
troops, always remains positive and never is comfortable sitting behind a desk.
Roberts, the sergeant major for Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine
Forces Pacific, may be best remembered for spending time with his Marines.
“I think I walk the halls a lot,” said Roberts, who hails from Allendale, S.C.
“I'm always in someone else's office, talking to the Marines, getting to know
the Marines. I've got to stay in touch with them. If they have questions, I want
to be there to answer them. I've always preferred being hands-on.”
Roberts described his early years as always having something to do while growing
up in a small town. It was in Allendale, he said, that he learned a work ethic
that propelled him through his career as a Marine. He joined the Marine Corps
after watching a recruiter enter a convenience store he worked in as a teenager.
Blown away by how the sergeant presented himself, Roberts took his first step
toward becoming a Marine.
“I thought to myself, ‘Man that's a nice-looking uniform. I want to be a
Marine,'” he said. “Back then I didn't think a whole lot about
serving my country. I'd seen the commercials on TV, but what really
did it was when I saw that Marine and that way he carried himself.”
Roberts enlisted as a field wireman in November 1980. He attended recruit
training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.
One of the unique aspects of his career is that he never requested to be
stationed anywhere. The Corps moved him from duty stations on the East Coast to
Japan. He never complained and made the best of where the Corps needed him.
One such occasion was in 1984. Shortly after arriving to Albany, Ga., Roberts
learned his section was overmanned and that he would not be working in the
section in which he'd expected to serve.
“They offered me a couple of different jobs,” he said, chuckling. “I took
assistant athletic director because it sounded better.”
It was during his time in Georgia that he decided to change his career field to
Roberts said he enjoyed working as a utilities technician because it made life
better for Marines. He worked with water purification, generators and air
conditioning systems -- everything a unit needs to improve the quality of life
for deployed Marines..
But it took some time before he mastered his craft. Changing career fields as a
sergeant required him to take advice and learn from his juniors, an experience
that helped to shape his leadership style today.
“Because I [changed career fields] as a sergeant, I had to rely on my lance
corporals and corporals to correct me,” Roberts said. “They knew the job, and I
didn't. That experience taught me to never lose touch with the Marines and to
always have that level of communication. Sometimes, they just have a better way
of doing it that you haven't thought about. It's all about teamwork.”
You don't have to go far here to find people who like Roberts' style.
“He was just driven,” said Elger Talley, a retired Marine who served with
Roberts in Japan and now works here as a civilian contractor. “He and I were
staff sergeants together in Iwakuni, and I just thought he was dynamic. He's one
of the top 10 Marines I've ever known. He was always well received, squared
away. When I ran into him working here, and saw that he was a sergeant major, I
could see that. Even back then as a staff sergeant, I saw that he had it in
Marine Corps Sgt. Diamond Robinson, Marine Forces Pacific operations section
administrative chief, said he's learned a lot from Roberts “because of his
leadership and who he is as a man.” said
“He's impacted my life in a lot of ways,” he said. “He's very, very, very
understanding. He's not the kind of leader that hounds his Marines. He's
straight and to the point, but you can tell there's some compassion, that he
really cares about his Marines. Just [from] the way he carries himself and all
the activities he does outside of the Marine Corps, you can tell he's a man of
morals and values, and that's something to look up to.”
With his retirement ceremony scheduled for April 16, Roberts is taking advantage
of the time he has left to pass his secrets of success to the Marines under his
“Be where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there, in the right
uniform and in the right frame of mind,” he said. “Keep a positive attitude with
everything you do, and everything you do should be positive.
“You've got to embrace change,” he continued. “If you're plan is to just do four
years and get out, that's fine, but take the opportunities to do certain things
you thought you couldn't do. The Marine Corps is a great way of life.”
He paused, and then grinned from ear to ear. “Oh, and one more thing,” he said.
“Save your money. We can't stay [in the Corps] forever. We have to prepare for
the day we take off the uniform.”
Roberts officially retires Sept. 1, and he said he will dedicate the rest of his
life to his college education, mentoring at-risk teenagers and working on his
Article and photo by USMC Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso
Marine Forces Pacific
Special to American Forces Press Service
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