MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Since he took charge of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in June 2010, Col. Daniel J. Lecce has taken the role of base commanding officer to a level never seen before.
April 3, during the MCB Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Installations East re-designation ceremony, Lecce turned his duties and responsibilities over to Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Gorry, the commanding general of MCIEAST.
Lecce took a few moments to answer several questions about his unique tenure spent as the last field-grade officer in command of MCB Camp Lejeune.
Q: What comes to mind when someone says, “natural disasters?”
A: My tenure here at Camp Lejeune immediately comes to mind. They’re kind of connected but we rose to the occasion every time, a very Marine-like way of handling one bad news story after another.
The Emergency Operations Center, the base Web page and the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Facebook page were working like a dream. As bad as it was, almost 40 hours being in the same place, we really reacted very well and got back to normal quickly.
Q: What do you think you will miss the most about being the base commander?
A: I think without question, I’m going to miss the young Marines. The demographic in the Marine Corps is 27-years-of-age or under. There is no greater honor than to lead Marines.
Q: What were your expectations coming to this command and how did that match up to your experiences?
A: I expected fewer natural disasters but it’s the typical Marine Corps: it puts you in a job where you either grow or sink. None of us are brought up as installation commanders. The staff I had was tremendous; the community here in Onslow County has been very cooperative. After the first couple of months, it didn’t become easy to work here but it became more and more of a pleasure to do it.
Q: You have used the phrase “Stay hard, stay Marine,” on numerous occasions before. Can you explain?
A: It means a lot of things. It means live the code. It’s the unsaid code that we all share, honor, courage and commitment. You have to live those words, you have to personify them. It means doing the right thing when no one is looking and that your word is your bond.
When you say something, without question, 100 percent of the time I can trust you. That’s what it is to be a Marine. What causes someone to walk into a situation where death is almost assured? It’s the code and worse than death, is dishonoring that.
Q: Over the past two years, you’ve become a part of the Camp Lejeune and Onslow County communities. How important is the military community to you?
A: The community here is tremendous. I get people (voicing their opinions) about many different things but the vast majority of them want to try and improve things. Every event that I’ve been to or any time I leave the base, everyone has been very gracious and very kind.
It’s a community that you feel a part of. You don’t get this everywhere and the community experience that we have here, New River and all of Onslow County has been a great experience.
Q: When the history of Camp Lejeune is written, what are they going to say about your last few years here?
A: They are going to talk about the unprecedented destructive weather and man-made disasters. There are people that have been here for more than 40 years who have never seen this.
My change of command was during a horrible lightening storm and in 26 years (in the Marine Corps) I’ve never seen an entire formation run off of a field. That was a foreshadowing, because after that, we had 29 inches of rain in three days. After that, we had record snowfall. After that, a 10,000-acre wildfire. After that, a tornado. Then, a lightning bolt hit a tree at the base stables, which four horses were standing beneath. The horses were standing in water and because one of them was wearing metal shoes, they were all (electrocuted).
When I got there, it was a mess.
After it was over, it was one of those things that got everybody involved and we were all just very appreciative that we came together. It just goes to show you that a little bit of involvement brings everyone closer. It turned out as good as something like that can.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m going to United States Southern Command, located and headquartered in Miami. It’s going to be a change but I’m looking forward to it.
During the re-designation, Lecce received the Legion of Merit with a gold star in lieu of second award. Despite his bad luck with Mother Nature, Lecce still completed his tour of duty exceptionally well and thrived as a base commander on many different fronts.
According to the citation, and everyone in attendance who could vouch for him, “Lecce was responsible for maintaining and protecting a 157,000-acre training base, more than 6,600 facilities, 1,000 miles of roadway, a railroad line, five water treatment plants and a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant.”
Lecce also supervised the execution of $1.5 billion in construction and the completion of the United States Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command complex, the first phase of the Wallace Creek complex, base housing and an elementary school – all part of the largest construction growth since the 1950s.
Lecce’s advice for all oncoming and current service members and families was to maintain those basic attributes that got them where they are today.
“(Those attributes) will take them far,” said Lecce. “Obviously the construction is going to be a physical change to the base and the drawdown will be ongoing, but frankly, I don’t think the base will change that much. The personality of the base will stay the same.”