The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Reveals His Biggest Leadership Failure And It Will Stop You In Your Tracks
The picture above is the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. His name is Troy Black and he's been in the Marine Corps since 1988 and is the highest-ranking enlisted person in the branch. You don't get to that position without having an absolutely stellar career from the moment that you enlist to the moment you put on the chevrons. He's the only person in the Marine Corps to wear that insignia. One. That's it.
Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black, a Bronze Star with "V" recipient. That V is significant. Sometimes a Bronze Star can be awarded for administrative or leadership in a combat zone (shoutout Cons), but when a V is attached, it's from direct combat actions.
In 2010, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" for running through the uncleared territory to rescue a fallen comrade hit by an improvised explosive device. In our interview, he discusses the travesty that led to that bronze star and how it still plagues his thoughts with regret. He also talks about how he maintained contact with the people who were also there, even those- maybe especially those- that were far junior in rank. That's the thing about high awards with valor, they simply do not happen if there wasn't bloodshed or periods of intense violent combat.
When he talks about that moment, his highest combat-related personal award, there's no self-praise about what happened. There was no self-aggrandizing. There was no mention of that award and it's clear that it is the furthest thing from his mind. Instead, his thoughts are still self-doubt, self-reflection, and Monday Morning Quarterbacking which happens to all leaders when you lose someone in your unit. When you lead, you lead with your whole chest and nothing is more important to you in those moments except for the mission. All Marines know that. The order of importance is mission accomplishment and then troop welfare. Hell, it's on his coin.
His career spans decades and his knowledge about all levels of warfighting is remarkable. Sitting there in his house and listening to his perspectives, how he views Marines, and the level of lethality that the Marine Corps currently employs was incredible.
Speaking of sitting in his house, I gotta say, I was blown away. Simply blown away. If you've read my stuff or listened to Zero Blog 30, you know how important the title of Marine is to me. I don't need qualifiers. I don't need combat veteran or purple heart recipient or whatever other adjectives you want to modify that noun with. Simply being a Marine was always enough for me and it always will be.
That being said, I didn't leave the Marine Corps the way I wanted to. I was medically retired and in severe legal trouble (to say the least). In lots of ways, I got lucky getting hired at Barstool because I was rudderless for a while. Since then, with the help of many others, I've been able to turn my life around a ton but the way I was retired has always eaten me alive. This interview helped.
I told Kate and Cons that this interview was cathartic in many ways.
1. I got to do something that I never thought would happen. No one would have believed I'd being doing this kinda shit when I was still on active duty. No one. But there I sat with the senior most enlisted person in the Marine Corps, not only that, but I was at his house and he offered to make me coffee. COFFEE! If you would have told me this story in 2010, I would have shit on the spot. Full trousers. Full. With shit. Just being in that house with that kind of history was surreal. Walking around the barracks at 8th and I, where the silent drill team does their ceremonies, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine was giving ME a tour of that historic site filled me with a pride I haven't felt in a while. It was unreal. Still just unreal.
I never watch my own videos or podcasts but I did this time. I've watched it 4 times just because I can't believe I got to do the interview.
2. Because it felt like a redemption arc was complete. Leaving the Marine Corps as I did was more palatable simply because the Sergeant Major gassed me up about the type of Marine I was (am) and told me I was doing great things for veterans. Whether that is true or not, didn't matter at the moment. It mattered to me that he said it. I'm 40 years old, married, a father of two, moderately successful, and that compliment meant the world to me coming from him. That might be pathetic to some but it was very real to me.
No matter what we here at Barstool say, it's easy to forget how lucky we all are. I was reminded about that luck in this interview. I was motivated and felt more secure in the direction of our military because someone like Troy Black still leads and loves the Marines.
We also talk about:
- Sniper platoons going away
- Tanks going away
- How combat with China would shape out
- a return to amphibious operations and training
- lessons learned over nearly 40 years
and much much more. Please give it a listen.