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Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, 16th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, talks to more than 3,000 Marines at the Geottge Memorial Field House aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, April 20. Camp Lejeune is just one of many stops he will be taking as he tours the country and talks to Marines for the last time as sergeant major of the Marine Corps.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Victor Barrera

Sgt. Maj. Kent bids farewell to Camp Lejeune

20 Apr 2011 | Lance Cpl. Victor Barrera

Amid a standing ovation, Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the 16th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, stepped into the Geottge Memorial Field House to talk to the Camp Lejeune Marines he represents and speaks for April 20.

The visit was a part of his farewell tour as he prepares to hand over the reins as sergeant major of the Marine Corps to Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, who is currently the sergeant major for 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

During his meeting with the Marines, Kent took time to thank the Marines for their service and announced that he will retire June 9th. He also spoke about what is going on in the Corps and what the future may hold for Marines.

He also pumped up the Marines’ spirits when he told them about his travels overseas.

“You are truly living up to the war-fighting legacy of our Corps today and we are still making Marines like we did when I first stepped onto those yellow footprints in (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) Parris Island in 1975,” said Kent. “We are a war fighting organization and that’s what separates us from every other service in the world. We’re the finest and most feared in the world all because of Marines and sailors like you that make it that way.”

Kent also added that he and the commandant are often told by other nation’s militaries that the Marine Corps is the finest and professional military they’ve ever encountered.

Another topic that many Marines talk about is ‘the downsizing in the Marine Corps,’ Kent assured the Marines attending that the commandant will not reduce numbers until the Marine Corps is out of combat operations. However to put an end to the rumor mill, the cut will not be from 202,000 to 147,000, instead the cut will only be to 186,800 Marines.

Throughout the speech, Kent repeatedly spoke of the many great things that the Marines were doing throughout the world, be it guarding embassies, training foreign militaries or fighting the war in Afghanistan.

“Marines are doing things that no other service can do in Afghanistan. They are building the confidence in the Arab people, they have the enemy on the run. They don’t want to engage Marines because they know we run to the sound of guns and they know that,” said Kent. “It’s because of that, that the southern part of Afghanistan is building up, positive things are happening there that weren’t happening prior to having Marines there.”

Another topic that is constantly being talked about was also addressed: suicide. Kent said even though it is statistically a good year it could be better. The Marine Corps has had 17 less suicides, but there have still been around 30 suicides last year. Two years ago there were 52 suicides, Kent asked the Marines to keep doing what they were doing and that the leadership needed to ensure that they would keep taking care of Marines.

“Hold those formations every day so you can keep on looking your Marines eye-to-eye, go to the (Bachelor Enlisted Quarters) to include the weekends,” said Kent. “I can remember coming up as a young Marine when we lived in squad bays and we were very close. You smelled your buddy’s toes, you tell him to clean them, and you guys were buddies for life as long as he kept his toes clean. The leadership used to come to the squad bays, take us out to the beer garden and we would barbeque with the staff NCOs and NCOs that didn’t live in the barracks and they got to know us on a personal level.”

 After the sergeant major of the Marine Corps was done with his speech, he opened the floor up to any Marines that wanted to ask him questions, be it personal or a topic that would affect all Marines.

One of the questions that was asked regarded a recent article in the Marine Corps Times about females in the infantry. After a resounding commotion, Kent gave the Marine the answer.

“It won’t happen in the Marine Corps,” said Kent. “I just spoke at a first sergeant’s course in Quantico, where they had great female first sergeants in the course where one asked that same question. I asked them what they thought. Everyone except one said no except one. They all gave me reasons why, hygiene, we have Marines right now who haven’t taken showers in two and a half months. Second thing, the body structure is different, yes we have female Marines, I know one who can do 40 dead-hang pull-ups, but if you look at the gear the infantry units carry, that is heavy.”

Culture also plays an important role in the females in the infantry debate. When women are in danger, instinct is to protect them which can cause Marines to lose focus in the squad.

A question rose from a Marine in the crowd about any new or upcoming professional military education. Kent stated that more PMEs are coming as well as changes and that the commandant is also pushing for it. For staff NCOs there are also more upcoming courses some of which involve college, a number of first sergeants and master sergeants are also being sent to the Army’s Sergeant Major Academy. Kent also added that in the future the Marine Corps will also have a mixed-martial arts program.

One Marine in the crowd asked if rumors that the Marine Corps recruit training was getting easier and if drill instructors were not allowed to yell or knife hand anymore.

“The commandant and I just visited (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) San Diego and that’s a myth, when we were there, those drill instructors were all in the recruits’ faces and just (incentive training) them,” said Kent. “I’m going to hit the Army again, talk to those drill sergeants, the leadership has told them that it’s pretty much hands-off, to ensure the recruits aren’t stressed, they can even keep cell phones on them. Now can you see a recruit with a cell phone in San Diego or Parris Island? Hell no.”

As the questions drew to an end, Kent was proud of everything Marines were doing both state-side and abroad.

“As we retire, me, my wife and daughters, I’m gonna leave the Marine Corps very proud, with pride and honor of me being able to serve with you,” said Kent. You devil dogs don’t have to worry about living in someone else’s legacy because you have been carving your own for the last 10 years.”