Sgt. Maj. Ernest Rose was born in San Jose, Calif. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Dec. 26, 1990. Rose was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 3 in 2011 aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii before transferring to Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in 2013, and then to Headquarters Battalion in January 2014 as battalion sergeant major. His personal awards include the Navy Commendation Medal with four gold stars, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with three gold stars, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with one silver star and one bronze star.
As a young Marine, did you see yourself becoming a sergeant major?
Honestly, when I joined the Marine Corps, I was really in the dark as far as what it was all about. In my eyes, I knew this was definitely the best, based off of all the commercials I watched as a kid, and I really liked the uniform. I had always wanted to be a sergeant major, but it seemed like it was a far reach. I’m very humbled to be where I’m at now. So I guess the answer is no, I did not aspire to reach the rank of sergeant major. I came in thinking I want to be the best of the best, and that was my only goal.
As a sergeant major, do you have any favorite quotes?
I don’t have a quote. Don’t get me wrong, I like them and I enjoy them. But I think the problem with a quote, or saying, is you can get yourself in trouble. Because if you’re not following that guideline, then you’ll be called out on it. So, I try to stay away from them.
What is your biggest sergeant major pet peeve?
My number one pet peeve is a lack of SNCO engagement with young Marines. It’s easy to see from a mile away. When I know more about a young Marine than his or her SNCO, then there it is, right there. It drives me nuts.
Who were your mentors and how did they affect your career?
You mention the word “mentor” and I think about Staff Sgt. Daniels. We were in Okinawa, and I was a young corporal. He basically took me under his wing and said, ‘Hey, I see something in you and you could be great.’ Just that statement alone made me love the Marine Corps even more. I think that was the turning point for me, when I decided to stay in the Marine Corps for as long as I could. He taught me everything from drill to counseling.
He was that one guy that I went to for advice to this day I keep in contact with him. He got out several years ago, but that guy was the epitome of a Marine leader. He took care of his Marines, he had interest in his Marines, he was on the ground floor with his Marines and he did everything a mentor should. It was a sincere caring that he had for the Marine Corps and for his Marines, which I admired and from that point on I wanted to be like him. I still do. I still aspire to be like him.
How have your good and difficult Marine Corps experiences shaped you today?
I think we’ve all in some way succeeded or failed as far as leadership is concerned. Trial and error. Some things work and some things don’t. One thing I’ve always known is that it’s never about you and it’s never about me. Everything is about the Marines and how to make them successful because, in turn, if they’re successful then you automatically become successful.
I believe you have to earn the respect of your Marines as a leader. You can’t just go in and say, ‘Hey my rank demands respect.’ You have to earn it, and the actions you do is the only way you’re going to earn that respect. Talking to your Marines, you start to see the morale, as well as everything else gradually improve.
I think that’s been the biggest thing for me as far as shaping me into the leader I am today. But I’m still learning. I learn things from young Marines every single day. As we know, society changes and we have to adjust with it in order to meet those needs.
How do you push leaders junior to you to lead by example?
My SNCOs are important to me, but the young Marines are key. You can walk into any section, or any shop, in the Marine Corps, and you can judge the leadership based off the morale. When I find that morale is low, the Marines aren’t squared away, whatever the case may be, I immediately look for the SNCO and the officer in charge because that shows me there’s a problem. If morale is low, then there’s an issue, and usually it’s at the leadership level. Because number one, they’re not engaged, number two, they’re not setting the example or number three, they just have no idea what’s going on. So, I try to get those SNCOs together and talk about things, like how to make their sections more productive.
I think we’ve been successful in the Marine Corps with fixing those problems as long as they’re being addressed. It takes more than just one person to do that. It takes the Marine Corps being engaged immediately in addressing those issues.
If Pfc. Rose were to run into Sgt. Maj. Rose, what piece of advice would you pass on to him?
Well there would be a million things I would say (laughs). The one thing I would say is, ‘Remember why you joined the Marine Corps. The pride of belonging, the challenge and being the best. Stick to that stuff, don’t make excuses, stop pointing the finger, and accept the Marine Corps is the Marine Corps and that’s what you joined.’
How do you try to connect with your junior Marines on a day-to-day basis?
To be honest with you, I just walk around. I try to stay out of this office as much as possible and talk to the Marines. Let them talk, they start to feel comfortable, and the next thing you know there’s a connection. I like having connections with those Marines. If I start talking, then it basically just turns into a PME from me to them.
What has been the most dramatic change within the Corps since you’ve been in, and how have the Marines handled it?
I think the most dramatic change is the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the Marine Corps. Personally, It didn’t affect me other than I needed to be aware of some of the policies and things of that nature. But the Corps as a whole, I saw a lot of other Marines having very big issues with it. And for a while it took some education, but I think for the most part it has all settled down now. I think that was probably the most dramatic change, and I think our Corps is better off because of it. The bottom line is a Marine is a Marine. As long as we’re all performing our duties and being Marines, then why should it matter?
What moments do you experience that make you stop and think, “I’m a Marine,” and exemplify your pride in our Marine Corps?
There’s two: Every time I see a commercial on TV, a Marine Corps commercial. The other one is every parade I go to and watch the band march across the parade deck. It gives me chills and I absolutely love it.
You know, there’s actually one more. Recruiting duty. When you’re preaching the Marine Corps for three years straight to everyone you see, you fall in love a little bit more with the Marine Corps. That is you, you are the Marine Corps and you’re preaching it. You can’t stop talking about it because of everything you’re doing out there. You cannot figure out why everybody doesn’t want to be a Marine. I enjoy all of it. The stickers, the sweat suit, the T-shirts. I have it all. There was a time when I was a young Marine when it was nerdy to walk around with an eagle, globe and anchor on your t-shirt on libo. But I have absolutely no problem with it today. I love being a Marine. I really do. They’re only going to let me stay in for so long, so I want to enjoy every second that it gives me.