Ask any Marine to find where Otter Pops fall on the list of leadership traits or principles.
Master Sgt. Joseph Estill McWhorter, Jr., the Marine Wing Support Squadron-371 mess chief and a native of Springfield, Ky., with 22 years of Marine Corps experience, believes the frozen delicacy is meant to keep morale up.
A small gesture from a lot of rank that can go a long way with his junior Marines is his philosophy.
Despite being born in Lebanon, Ky., McWhorter still considers his hometown to be Springfield, Ky., due to Springfield not having a hospital when he was born. Lebanon was the next town over.
“Springfield is a very small town. We have two red lights and one caution light,” McWhorter said.
McWhorter grew up in a fun-loving household. He was one of five boys and had one sister. A very active child who loved playing any and all sports under the sun. From kickball to softball, baseball, and basketball, young McWhorter was as outgoing as they come. Whatever the season allowed, that’s what he’d play.
McWhorter said, “We had a great time, all the time. Always outside in the summer and early in the morning, we’d be out the house and stay out all day long. To avoid taking a nap, we would stay out all day playing.”
McWhorter would carry his enthusiasm for sports through high school, where he excelled at football, basketball and baseball. Come graduation, McWhorter found himself looking at the military. Everyone he knew who he considered successful adults had a history in the military.
While his older brother was in the Navy and stationed in San Diego, McWhorter spent a year with him and was exposed to a bigger world than his small town had to offer. After looking at all of the branches of the military, he felt the Marine Corps offered the biggest challenge.
His mother was very proud of her son. To this day, McWhorter talks to her every day, sometimes two or three times.
“She was very happy I enlisted. My Mom, she’s my best friend, her love never wavers.” said McWhorter. “At my best, she loves me. At my worst, she loves me.”
An emotional and high-strung Pfc. McWhorter found himself getting in trouble within his first year in the Corps. However, as is often the case, the young McWhorter took heed of some advice from a retired master sergeant he still holds true with his own Marines today: “It’s never personal. It’s always professional.”
“The first thing I try to instill in a Marine is the standard. I remind them that, ‘the standard is that which all of lesser grade measure themselves against’.” said McWhorter, quoting his mentor. “A lot of Marines ask, ‘Master Sergeant, why do you always come out and PT with us?’, and I tell them, ‘Devil Dog, when the day comes that I can’t lead you, when I can’t set the standard, that’s when I need to go ahead and retire’.”
McWhorter firmly believes in the creed that a Marine is a Marine 24/7.
“He’s old school Marine Corps,” said Cpl. Jose Roberto Fierroperez, a MWSS-371 food service specialist and native of El Paso, Texas. “He sets the bar high and keeps it up there.”
McWhorter makes sure to cover all aspects of what it means to wear the uniform, whether it’s a company morale run or organized PT sessions.
“I try to get them to embody being a Marine,” said McWhorter of his Marines. “It’s the little things. If you don’t want to look like a Marine on the weekend, then you need to reevaluate what you’re doing.”
His experience, from recruiting in 1998-2000 and a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan, shaped his beliefs on what it means to be a Marine, a professional.
“It made me look at life differently,” said McWhorter. “You never know how blessed you are until you see someone with less.”
Afghanistan also helped McWhorter appreciate how far the little things can go with people.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned we have to handle individual Marines differently,” said McWhorter. “I engage with all my Marines. Sometimes I get tied down behind this doggone computer, but for the most part, I try to sit down with each one of them, at the very least, once a week.”
Adapting to individual Marines is something McWhorter came to realize over time. Being fair and just is how he goes about handling business.
“I tell my young leaders that every day is an opportunity for you to sharpen your point,” said McWhorter. “Lead a little better than you did yesterday.”
For McWhorter, being one of the most senior enlisted Marines at the Cannon Air Defense Complex in Yuma, Ariz. affords him the chance to talk to young Marines on a daily basis. He makes it a point to ask how they’re doing, what their weekends were like and to touch base with how the families are doing. The master sergeant doesn’t just leave his door open; he makes it a habit to go beyond it to get to his Marines.
“He usually comes in here in the morning, starts chatting up everybody, making sure everyone’s all right,” said Lance Cpl. Jazmin Jaime, a MWSS-371 food specialist and a native of Nocona, Texas. “He’s very approachable.”
Whether it’s bringing in extra pans of zucchini bread, having an entire shop sign ‘Thinking of You’ cards to Marines on leave, passing out Otter Pops or Gatorades, or holding shop professional military education sessions at a restaurant, McWhorter makes sure his Marines know he’s there.
“The popsicles is my little thing. Some of the old sergeants try to say, ‘Ah, popsicles are for kids,’” said McWhorter. “But that same sergeant will come down later on, whispering, ‘Master Sergeant, can I get a popsicle?’”