Quote of the Day: “Never explain — your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.”
- Elbert Hubbard
Today was the day.
I took over as the Commanding Officer of Headquarters Company and by doing so, am now responsible for everything that is done and not done within my Company.
The ceremony was at about 1000 and up to that point, I was trying to stay busy with more turnover and the awkwardness of hanging around an office that wasn’t quite mine yet. Company business was still going on and everyone was doing the normal daily grind on top of getting ready for the change of command. The First Sergeant was a blur trying to keep everything together.
As we walked together to the courtyard where the ceremony would take place, I tried to mentally put everything in perspective. I was taking over the Company but knew little about how it ran. I was about to be the most powerful figure in this Company but I was very aware that I had come from right across the base where I was a recruit 19 years ago without the vaguest notion that someday I would be on the cusp of such an honor. I was about to embark on the most important part of my entire career with the most responsibility I had ever held. It was both exciting and terrifying.
Last night, I went over what I wanted to say during the ceremony. The way I’ve always done this is to write down talking points I wanted to cover and then practice, in general, what I would say. I never memorize it verbatim and spit it out mechanically; I only get the points in my head like a list and make sure I cover them in my speech. If it’s really important, like today, I do practice out loud but if I give the speech 10 times, I give ten slightly different speeches. I don’t want it to be TOO practiced but I don’t want to leave anything out.
Before the ceremony, I called my wife on my cell and left the cell with the narrator. This Staff Sergeant is the official narrator for the base and his voice can be heard every week during the graduation ceremonies. I asked him if I could leave my cell on his podium so my wife could hear the events via phone connection.
When it came time for me to speak, here is (basically) what I said:
Thank you Major (Outgoing).
This day is not mine but rightfully so, the outgoing CO’s so I will keep my comments short, if the Marines don’t mind of course.
I learned long ago that Marines tend to either forget to thank their wife and family or leave them to the end.
I want to wish Major (outgoing) the best of luck and even though our turnover has been brief, it’s evident that I’m inheriting an exceptional company. Thank you and I will strive to build on your successes.
Thank you Colonel (Battalion CO) for this golden opportunity to lead a Company. I understand you turned down a bona fide Major for this post and I guarantee you Sir, I will not let your confidence in me be in vain.
XO, I will be taking you up on your offer to darken your door probably more times than you thought when you made the offer. I appreciate the resource.
First Sergeant, I’m thoroughly impressed with you so far and I look forward to working with you.
Company Gunny, I’ve also been impressed with you but it’s only been two days so…. Just kidding, you come highly praised and I’m thankful.
To the Marines of Headquarters Company, you represent to me a dream come true and are a culmination of 19 years of preparation. I am here to serve you and together, we can accomplish our shared mission to support the making of Marines.
I AM PROUD TO BE YOUR NEW COMPANY COMMANDER.
The Battalion Commander had some kind words to say about both the outgoing and the incoming. Like I mentioned in my speech, a personnel shift happened after they offered me the Company and a Major was available for the slot. Rather than going with the Major, the CO allowed me to retain the job which puts an enormous amount of pressure on me. It was a show of incredible faith in my abilities and one I will make sure I don’t ruin.
The symbol of transition is the Company guidon. The First Sergeant marches up with it, hands it to the outgoing CO and then we turn to face each other. He thrusts it out to me and I grab it like I want it. Then we both face forward and by this time, the First Sergeant has stepped in front of me. I thrust the guidon to her and she takes it back to the formation.
When I grabbed it from the outgoing CO (a split second after the picture above was taken), I swear it felt electrified. I felt a real jolt when I grabbed it and while I logically know this was just an illusion performed within my mind, it was as real to me as it would be if the thing had a few volts running through it. There was no doubt that power had just been exchanged.
I was comfortable during the entire ceremony as I tried to look confident. It had been a long time since I had stood in any formation for any length of time, much less the center of attention so I was very aware of my position of attention. What I didn’t expect is that it would be so hard to stand at attention for this long. I used to be able to stand there for hours while my mind wandered but now, after a few minutes, I start to feel it. I got a little dizzy from the heat (and lack of sleep, and dehydration, and stress). The thought of fainting in formation for the first time in my entire career crossed my mind and how utterly devastating that would be.
Could you imagine? The incoming Company Commander fainting at his own Change of Command?
But all went well. When I turned to address the Company, I saw the Marines in formation and a feeling of such humility, responsibility, and honor came over me. I know they were ordered to be there and were counting the seconds until they could leave (I’ve been there plenty of times), but somewhere deep inside, they were also there for the outgoing CO and there for me, looking at me and wondering what kind of leader I would be. What kind of tone I would set for the Company.
I was ready to start answering that question right away.
After the ceremony, there was a reception and I got to meet a lot of people. Many of the leaders from the different sections came up and introduced themselves to me. I stayed until every one of them left and even after the last Marine left. I was there alone at the end with the knowledge that the Company was mine and this is where the ride begins.
Of note was the presence of a Sergeant Major who wasn’t even part of the Company. He had read my webpage and blogs for a long time and had contacted me before I even checked in. He showed up at the Change of Command and that meant so much to me. He didn’t have to be there and a lot of times, as I’m finding out, with so many things that go on around here, optional events are not always packed events. The fact that this Sergeant Major showed up voluntarily was an honor to a depth I cannot describe.
Free Advice for Today: “Read bulletin boards at the grocery store, college bookstore, and coin laundry. You will find all sorts of interesting things there.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.