Top infantry instructor selected, promoted on the spot

13 Nov 2002 | Lance Cpl. Shawn Rhodes

Being an instructor at the School of Infantry here is a hard job.  Just ask Infantry Training Battalion's Staff Sgt. Sean M. Christensen. He'd definitely know.  The Marine Corps recently choose the Lexington, Ky., native as the SOI "Instructor of the Year."

Announced during a conference last month at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Christensen's title is the end result of the competition between the Corps' two infantry schools. He competed first against his East Coast counterparts, and then against Camp Pendleton, California's. 

"It all really started for me when the Marine Corps had me working as a swimming instructor at the pool," Christensen said.  "I liked teaching people things, so I welcomed the chance to go to SOI and be a squad leader."

Christensen first worked with Marines in SOI's checking-in process, before they were turned over to their instructors for training. He said at the time his career as a teacher was just beginning, but his time in the Marine Corps was at an end.

"I got out of the Marine Corps five months after I became an instructor.  I missed it a lot, but knew I wanted to go to school.  I ended up working full time and going to school. I thought, 'I can do this in the Marine Corps, and not start on the bottom like I am now."'

Christensen reenlisted in 2001, and subsequently returned to SOI. He said he had to get back to what he loves -- teaching Marines. He explained that by showing students what he thinks a good Marine should be, he sets the standard for the rest of their careers.

"One time a student was looking at me, watching me for a few weeks," he explained. "Whenever I'd be teaching, this one Marine would always stare intently at me.  I asked him why he was doing that, and he said, 'Because I want to be like you sergeant.'"

Christensen said he prides himself on showing Marines what a noncommissioned officer is supposed to do.  He said anyone can be an "E-5," but being a sergeant takes a lot more.

Christensen competed against all the instructors of SOI to include those from ITB, Marine Combat Training and Advanced Infantry Training Battalions.

"There was an instructor at AITB who I was in really close competition with.  After we were evaluated on how well we taught, and how we were as Marines, I had only beaten his score by two points," he said.

Christensen said he is glad it was a close race instead of a landslide.  He said it's good that SOI has instructors of such high quality, and because they have to strive very hard to out do one another it means the Marines they are teaching have the best instruction possible.

Christensen said when he arrived at Quantico for the competition he was amazed at all the Marines there.  He explained that the Corps has competitions and honors for its top drill instructors, Marine security guards, recruiters and career planners.

He said when they were all in their pressed uniforms, it was like a room full of razor blades.

"During the whole competition I was anxious.  I practiced everything I was going to do on the drive from Camp Lejeune -- from what I would say when I greeted the inspecting board, to exactly how my salute would look.  I knew I was up against the best the West Coast SOI had to offer, and it was a nerve wracking experience," he said.

He said the Marines were not told who won in each category until their final formation.

"First they announced the winners of 'Drill Instructor of the Year' and 'Marine Security Guard of the Year,'" he said. "I was shaking. I was so nervous, but I tried not to let it show.  When they announced me as the winner, I didn't know whether to shout triumphantly or just smile."

For his efforts, he was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and meritoriously promoted on the spot.

Many of Christensen's comrades welcomed back the new staff sergeant to SOI, and said the award was well deserved.

"To come on deck here, you have to know your stuff," said Sgt. Gregory L. Griffin, a mortar squad instructor and Elkton, Md., native.  "The moment the instructors met him we could tell he was a stand-up Marine; very squared away."
Griffin said Christensen is very much like a big brother to the students. 

Christensen makes sure the students understand what he's trying to teach them before he moves on to the next lesson.

Christensen said he plans to continue doing his best at making sure Marines learn what they need to know in order to be effective infantrymen.

"The training for these Marines doesn't stop at Parris Island or San Diego," said Christensen.  "Instructors here need to do their best so that the students, new to the Corps, develop a good outlook and eventually make themselves better Marines."