MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Before Col. Richard P. Flatau Jr., commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, relinquishes command of the base to Col. Daniel J. Lecce and prepares to retire from the Marine Corps, he reflects on his time at Camp Lejeune, his service in the Marine Corps and tells us what is in store for the future.
Q: What developments have taken place on Camp Lejeune these last two and a half years that you have served as commanding officer?
A: If you drive around, you see all the construction going on. There’s been, in the span of my tour here, probably close to $2 billion worth of construction – physically, in terms of facilities. How certain areas of the base appear has been really unprecedented since the creation of the base.
In 1941, for instance, Stone Bay just dramatically transformed, and the Wallace Creek Regimental Complex, which is under construction right now is a very large area – 165 acres – and almost a quarter billion dollars worth of construction.
So the growth of the base and the facilities and massive construction renovation – of course a lot of that is connected to the strength increase of the Marine Corps that came here, some 9,000 people – that is probably the biggest change there’s been.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of that you think will be your “lasting legacy” here at Camp Lejeune?
A: I would put this question in terms of the base’s (accomplishment). If there was one thing I could point to, it would be the Commander-in-Chief’s Installation Excellence Award for the Marine Corps that we won in 2008.
(It wasn’t) just the award, per se, obviously it’s a great honor and something to be very proud of, but what it symbolized. (It symbolized) all the tremendous work by everybody on the base over a sustained period – a year – that was represented by that award.
For that matter, as I think I said when I went to accept that award at the Pentagon, it also symbolizes not only what the base achieved, but also the partnership with our tenant commands and the surrounding communities that allowed us to achieve that level of sustained performance.
Q: What were the toughest challenges you faced during your tenure as CO of the base?
A: If I had to capture it in a nutshell, it would just be the tremendous breadth of things that the base’s commanding officer has to be concerned with and involved in. It (deals with) everything from live-fire training on ranges – enabling, safety and conduct of that – to child development centers; law enforcement and security of the base; quality of life, whether it be the barracks or family housing; or the recreational things we have here on the base.
It’s the tremendous scope and breadth that you have to be aware of all the time. It’s not as if it all depends on me, because we have this great big, wonderful staff to divide (everything) up, and everyone has got their piece of it and is watching those things and keeping me aware and apprised of things that demand my attention.
The size of the base and populations here (are also tremendous). Camp Lejeune is 241 square miles, (more than) 45,000 active-duty members are stationed here, we have a family housing population that runs upwards of 10,000 or more, and (there are more than) 4,000 homes.
Beyond the bounds of the base is the total supported populations – with 45,000 active duty plus the family members, the family members who live out in the community, retirees and everyone who depends on the base, you’re talking about a population of some 170,000 people that have some connection to the base and that in some way the base supports them.
Q: Is there anything in particular that you would like to communicate to your Marines?
A: I would like to communicate how tremendously proud I am of all they do, everyday without any fanfare, in an absolutely first-class way. I think this is the best base in the Marine Corps. I know I may be biased, but there are a lot of things that happen here where we lead the Marine Corps. I am so proud of their commitment – how dedicated they are to doing things with excellence – and the teamwork within the base and with all those tenant commands and organizations with the community.
I am tremendously proud of all of them. I know that will continue. I almost can’t find words for it. I am humbled to have had the privilege and honor of being part of that team in my billet as the commanding officer, and I thank them for all they have done during my tour.
Q: Do you have anything you want to say about the support of the community at large?
A: These are the best surrounding communities any base could ever hope for – absolutely the best in the nation. Great cooperation, collaboration in terms of working with local municipalities and on an individual level, and it may sound corny coming from a Marine, but it’s a loving relationship. They give so much to Marines and sailors and families. It’s just incredible. I would thank them every bit as much as my own base staff, commands and tenant organizations. The surrounding community is, hands down, the best community in the nation.
Q: What has been the highlight of your Marine Corps career?
A: There are two. Being in command here has been the ultimate (experience) – I never would have dreamt this. No one was more surprised than me that I was selected to command here. This base is an icon of the Marine Corps and it’s so important and it’s so big. Over (the past) 69 years, it’s only been entrusted to few (leaders) if you look at the lineage of the base.
The other (highlight): I was in command of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 14 at Cherry Point. I just happened to be in command when we went to war in Iraq. I was organizing, orchestrating and choreographing my squadrons, multiple deployments and multiple detachments, to support wartime operations.
(I had) the privilege of taking part of my own squadron forward and melding it with detachments from 11 other units on a civilian ship where we performed our logistics support mission, but were also responsible for the safety and security of that ship. We deployed without a hitch, (did) what we did and (did) it in a way that was unprecedented – it had never been done before the way we had done it.
Those two things I’d count as a tie because it’s the operational Marine Corps and going to war. That is what we are all about, but certainly (being a commanding officer) because it’s such a high honor and privilege, and there is nothing that can compare to commanding a base this size, particularly this one.
Q: Is there anything you would have done differently during your career?
A: No. No regrets and look where it placed me in the end. I could have never hoped for or planned for anything better. It’s been absolutely great.
I didn’t start off with a grand plan. I came in, thought I was going to be in the Marine Corps for three years, and be done and that was going to be the end of it. I was content to do my time as a Marine, and would have counted myself as very proud to say I had been a United States Marine. Then it just led, one thing to another, so it didn’t happen by a grand plan.
I certainly couldn’t plan for it to turn out like this – so spectacularly. It’s been a tremendous adventure, (quite) a journey.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for the junior Marines or those who have just enlisted into the Marine Corps?
A: If I could borrow a phrase from my former (executive officer) when I commanded MALS-14, it would probably be this: “do the right thing and do things right.”
It means take initiative, stick to the rules, and it means if anything is worth doing, do it the right way. Do it with everything you have.
Q: What Marine leaders have influenced your life and development in the Marine Corps?
A: I don’t think I could point to anyone (in particular). It’s been all of them. As you go along, it’s like building a collage. You learn something different from each and every (person) along the way.
When you say “leaders,” it’s not just superiors. I’ve learned things from enlisted Marines, officers I’ve served with, officers I’ve served for, and I don’t think I could point to any one of them. They have all had a great influence along the way.
You keep building as you go. You take a little something from everyone. You give something of yourself as a leadership example to others, and you take from others you witness and the things they do.
Q: How has your wife and family played a part in your Marine Corps career?
A: They have only been with me for the last 12 years of my 27 years on active duty, in terms of my immediate family – my wife and kids. They have been tremendously supportive.
(Kids) help keep you grounded in what’s real and what really matters because you can get wrapped around the axel. There’s nothing like being a parent to help keep you focused on what really matters, and maybe, to some extent, about why you are a Marine – certainly to keep the country free and defend our nation, but you look to the succeeding generations coming along.
My wife has certainly bore more than her fair share for me so that I could either deploy or command or just do well in a billet, and she’s sacrificed a lot. She herself was active-duty in the Navy when we met, were first married, and we did our first tour together in uniform. She gave up her active-duty commission in order to let me go from the D.C. area to Cherry Point to command a squadron without me ever asking. She’s been like that all along and maintained a career as a naval reservist.
She’s also done all the other things. When the kids came along, she’s taken care of them. Being a CO’s wife comes with certain obligations and expectations.
They’ve been very patient and enduring and understanding – far more than I could ask.
Q: What are your plans after you retire from the Marine Corps?
A: Our family is moving to Huntsville, Ala. That’s not to say we didn’t think about staying here. It’s hard to leave this community, but we’re going to Huntsville because on the whole, for our family and for me, there’s probably more opportunity there, and I hope to spend some time between leaving here and becoming employed as a civilian. I want to spend time with the family, the kids, really settle down, help them get settled down, and then I am going to look for something in the civilian world.
Q: Could you please tell us a little bit about Col. Daniel J. Lecce, the incoming CO?
A: We were not acquainted at all until the message came out saying he had been selected to succeed me in command. As soon as the message came out, though, I did contact him. We have been increasingly in touch and have spent time together since then.
He certainly impresses me. He’s a sharp Marine officer and leader. I have since then come to realize that there are a number of common acquaintances that we have, whether they be peers or otherwise in the Marine Corps, that speak very highly of him. He comes with a high reputation and I’m sure he’s going to do great things here. I look forward to seeing the great things the base continues to do under his leadership.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?
A: It’s been a tremendous privilege and honor. It has been wonderful. It has been the absolute challenge of a lifetime in a career and every bit as rewarding.
I will miss the people here a lot, and I know it sounds cliché, but it is all about the people. (Everyone from) Headquarters and Support Battalion, Weapons Training Battalion, Deployment Processing Command, all the tenants, people all across the base, hospital, school system, everywhere you go – I’ll miss them.
I’ll miss being part of the team, but it has been great, and I’ll cherish that forever.