June 14, 2012

Maldonado bids yuma adios

Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
Desert Warrior Staff
Photo by Lance Cpl.  Sean Dennison
Sgt. Maj. Leonard Maldonado, Marine Attack Squadron 214’s outgoing sergeant major, watches the Marine Corps and national color during the pass in review at his relief and appointment ceremony on the parade deck, here, June 8. Maldonado, a native of Farmington, N.M., will return to his hometown with his family after more than two decades of service to his country.

Sgt. Maj. Leonard Maldonado’s last day as Marine Attack Squadron’s 214 sergeant major and his last tour of duty in the Marine Corps was a blessedly cool evening for Yuma, Ariz. Perhaps the weather received notice that his 26 years of faithful service to Corps and country was coming to end and responded accordingly.

“It’s humbling to think a homeboy from New Mexico could’ve made it this far,” said Maldonado, a native of Farmington, N.M., to the audience present for his retirement.

While Maldonado relinquished his position as the squadron’s senior enlisted advisor to Sgt. Maj. Charles Williams, recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif. prepped for the next day’s training towards becoming a U.S. Marine.  Elsewhere, Marines in Afghanistan and on ships continued to conduct operations.

The Corps released a valuable member of its ranks June 8, but still continued, stronger than before. Marines such as Maldonado are to thank for that perpetuation.

“The Marines were in the cards for me when I was in ninth grade,” he said.

Maldonado’s father served in the Korean War with 5th Marine Regiment. His five other brothers also served. Their time in uniform was commemorated in a room at Maldonado’s grandmother’s house.

“There were photos of all my uncles,” he said. “I was going through some stuff and I happened to stumble across my father’s boot camp yearbook.”

That one moment of discovery would lead to more than two decades of service.

Maldonado shipped off to boot camp on June 16, 1986. From there, he began his career as a dispersing clerk in Okinawa, Japan. He would deepen the Maldonado footprint in Korea when he deployed there in support of Operation Bear Hunt in 1987.

Maldonado went on to do a tour in Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. He ruminated on how the Corps changed since he’s been in.

“The biggest advantage to my upbringing in the Marine Corps is we didn’t have all this technology,” said a smiling Maldonado as he worked on an email. “Word was passed in formation. I was able to pick out things from individuals, like the way they carried themselves.”

He agrees transition from formations to electronics as the preferred medium of communication has both ups and downs.

“We have email, texting… we can almost guarantee instantaneous changes to plans,” said Maldonado.

However, “We do not take the opportunity to address Marines face to face. It’s really easy to appear harsh and aggressive over email,” he said.

“What hasn’t changed is Marines are still the roughest, toughest bunch around,” Maldonado added. “We always represent ourselves proudly and take care of one another.”

In 1994, then Sgt. Maldonado reported for drill instructor duty at Parris Island, S.C.

“Whether you joined in 1950 or 2012, your part of a family,” he said. “Everything I know about the Marine Corps told me if you want to make the Corps better, going to the drill field was the way to do it.”

The star-centered chevrons of sergeant major appeared on Maldonado’s uniform in 2007, whereupon he reported for duty with Marine Air Control Squadron 1. Previously, he served as Landing Support Company’s first sergeant with 3rd Transportation Support Battalion, based in Okinawa, Japan.

“Making the transition into the Air Wing with MACS-1 was simple for me due to the fact MACS-1 was structured more like a battalion,” Maldonado explained. “VMA-214, however, exposed me to the life of a flying squadron.”

A history buff, Maldonado jumped at the chance to further the VMA-214 Black Sheep’s storied history.

“From that, I’ve gained new respect for the young Marines responsible for keeping this machine running,” he said.”

As a sergeant major, Maldonado has seen the ups and downs of the Corps throughout both enlisted and officer ranks. How does one maintain a cool head when in the Corps for 26 years?

“The secret to my success is my beautiful wife Madonna,” said Maldonado. “She’s been the glue to the Maldonado household from start to finish.”

And there you have it.

Maldonado received the Meritorious Service Medal at his retirement, with Madonna receiving a certificate of appreciation. Lt. Col. Troy M. Pehrson, the commanding officer of VMA-214, closed the ceremony and retirement with a fitting quote.

“Two words: simply outstanding,” Pehrson said. “My dictionary just got a new definition of the word Marine. It’s Maldonado.”

Sgt. Maj. Leonard Maldonado, Marine Attack Squadron 214’s outgoing sergeant major, accepts a Meritorious Service Medal from Lt. Col. Troy Pehrson, VMA-214’s commanding officer, during Maldonado’s relief and appointment ceremony on the station parade deck. Sgt. Maj. Charles Williams, right, replaced Maldonado as the squadron’s senior enlisted advisor.

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