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Retired Judge Pamela Iles speaks to a group of 850 Marines and sailors about the importance of knowing the service members under their command to effectively spot signs of trouble during the 2011 Leadership Awareness Conference at the Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern, N.C., May 25. Made up of noncommissioned officers and second and third class petty officers, the warriors in attendance were briefed for eight hours on the signs and corrective tools of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, spousal violence and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

Leadership Awareness Conference held for East Coast Marines, sailors

25 May 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

Know yourself and seek self-improvement. Know your Marines and look out for their welfare. Be technically and tactically proficient. Set the example.

Along with seven other values, these sentences make up the Marine Corps’ leadership principles, a list of phrases that briefly encompasses the ethos of what it means to be a leader of Marines. While leadership is stressed toward every Marine from the lowest rank, it is the noncommissioned officers who are expected to dutifully carry out such principles toward any Marine under them. Yet, while a variety of annual training requirements are held, it may not be getting across the full reality of the importance of involved leadership.

This is why approximately 850 NCOs and second and third class petty officers from the various commands and bases under II Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Installations East, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and Training and Education Command gathered for a Leadership Awareness Conference at the Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern, N.C., May 25.

“For a day, we’re teaching these NCOs about what they need to know to identify signs of things such as suicide, alcohol abuse and violence in their Marines and what to do before anything happens,” said Kathy McCarrell, executive director of the Heroes and Healthy Families, the organization responsible for the leadership seminar.

In 2002, then-Judge Pamela Iles of the Orange County Superior Court in California remarked on how many Marines returning from combat deployments were getting in trouble for a variety of small, avoidable offenses, such as speeding tickets and being drunk in public. She saw a need for some sort of forum to take place for Marine NCOs to become aware of such problems and how to manage and prevent them from happening. After approaching the leadership of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton with her proposal, the annual Leadership Awareness Conference was created, touching on four to six Marine Corps base areas per year.

“The most important thing to remember is to look out for your Marines – recognize when something might not be right with them,” said Iles, as she spoke to the audience. “You’re never alone in the Marine Corps or the Navy, and we are now in a time where we can treat whatever issues someone may face. Reach out to them.”

Hosted by Lt. Gen. John Paxton, commanding general of II MEF and commander of U.S. Marine Forces Africa, the conference included a score of civilian experts and military authorities on virtually every topic detrimental to a service members’ well-being. Suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, family or partner violence, adrenaline addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder were all spoken about in-depth. The Marines and sailors in attendance were given an abundance of knowledge on signs of recognition and ways to prevent such problems in themselves as well as their Marines.

“We in attendance are going to pull what we can from this conference and take it back to our units to spread the knowledge,” said Cpl. Curtis Hauser, operations NCO with the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, II MEF. “This is basically what all our annual training covers, but some go through the material too quickly. This is more effective in reaching the Marines and providing more information.”

Rather than the conventional single hours of safety briefs throughout the year and lecturing to a crowd in between work periods, this day-long conference held the audience captive, yet kept their interest throughout the eight hours of speakers. Periodically involving the audience in discussion questions, the air of regretfulness of attending was not felt.

“There is no post-war period for the Marine Corps and the Navy,” said Paxton. “That’s why you are here – to better prepare yourself for leading your Marines when the beast rises again. This day will put more arrows in your quiver, more tools in your kitbag and strengthen the knowledge in yourself and in your Marines.”

At the end of the day, when the Marines and sailors were transported back to their respective bases and units, each and every one of the attending war fighters was richer for the experience. As NCOs and petty officers, leaders of Marines and sailors, knowing those newer service members is crucial to recognizing and preventing any life-altering mistakes that might be made. This, plus much more, is what the 850 men and women took away today to better themselves, those around them and those to come.