MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has a long and illustrious history dating back to the early 1980s, but few would argue that the unit’s 18th sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Octaviano Gallegos Jr., hasn’t made an impact on that unit’s history. The Marines say the Gallegos legacy is simple—a “Marine’s Marine” with selfless devotion and a straightforward, never-give-up, “no-BS” attitude.
Marines and sailors from the 24th MEU said goodbye to Gallegos Mar. 14, 2014, during a relief and appointment ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and bid him farewell as he continues to his next assignment as the sergeant major of II Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Normally, a news story like this—a personality feature—evolves from interviews and discussions with the person featured. However, anyone who knows Gallegos knows this story could never come from Gallegos’ mouth. Instead, this story comes from the mouths of his Marines.
Sergeant John Kelley, a radio operator with the 24th MEU command element, has worked under the tutelage of Gallegos since he arrived to the unit as a lance corporal. He says Gallegos taught him the nuances between leading Marines and controlling them. He also gave him a lesson about first impressions and explained that Gallegos’ “locked and cocked” appearance makes him look aggressive and intimidating, yet he’s extremely personable.
“He’s had a huge impact on me, professionally and personally,” Kelley said. “And it was just a lot of simple things, the little things that he was constantly showing me and the other Marines. He made me think how my decisions affect other people instead of just myself.”
Gallegos joined the Marine Corps in 1985 and reported to Infantry Training School as an 0311, basic rifleman, after recruit training. His first duty station was at Marine Barracks 8th & I in Washington, D.C., where he was a member of one of the Corps’ most prestigious units—the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.
Staff Sgt. Johnny Quesinberry served with Gallegos at the 24th MEU through two deployments and says he thought he came to the unit as a “pretty squared away Marine,” but Gallegos taught him so much more by showing him “how to step outside the box.”
“He’s always been the one you want to aspire to become,” Quesinberry said. “He lives the example, doesn’t just talk it. Always taking care of the young Marines—the little guy—but at the same time reinforces those same values with the SNCOs.”
In 2008, the lifetime “grunt” was promoted to sergeant major and assigned to duty in an aviation unit as the Marine Medium Tiltrotor squadron 263 sergeant major, where he deployed with the 22nd MEU as the aviation combat element sergeant major, the first ACE to deploy with MV-22B Ospreys. Gallegos came to the 24th MEU in September 2011 and led the unit’s enlisted Marines through its nine-month deployment in 2012.
While other MEUs tend to “power down” after a long deployment, Gallegos kept the 24th MEU going strong using his no-nonsense leadership style, with assistance from the things that keep him focused.
Staff Sgt. Shaun Atwell, who checked in with the unit, and Gallegos, in March 2013, told a story about the first time he met his new sergeant major.
“I marched into his office in my Service Alpha uniform and he (Gallegos) said, ‘Look, there’s only two documents you need to do your job—the NCO creed and the SNCO creed—that’s it.’”
But it’s not only Marines who benefitted from Gallegos’ leadership during his time at the 24th MEU. The unit’s Family Readiness Officer, Mrs. Ann Gasperini, has been with the unit since Gallegos’ arrival and says he helped her learn about the relationships between Marines’ families and their leaders.
“I knew early on that I could take anything to him,” said Gasperini. “No matter what was going on, he would stop whatever he was doing and address the situation, pull the entire family into his office and just talk to them. His focus was always on the Marines and extending his support to the families.”
Just a few months after returning from their 2012 deployment, the 24th MEU and its new commanding officer, Col. Scott F. Benedict, was tasked to deploy and provide command and control for the Marine Corps’ newest unit, Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response.
"In these jobs, we like to think we make some good decisions,” said Benedict. “But over the years, no matter how important they seemed at the time, most are not memorable. The decision I made to ask Sgt. Maj. Gallegos to stay on and deploy with SP-MAGTF Crisis Response will go down as one of my best decisions, both on a personal and professional level. No one executes ‘knee-cap to knee-cap’ leadership like Sgt. Maj. Gallegos. He will be missed as a leader, a teammate, and a friend."
Gallegos turned over duties as 24th MEU sergeant major to Sgt. Maj. Lanette N. Wright.