MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
1st Tank Battalion welcomed a familiar face Monday, when retired Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas A. Popaditch spoke to the Marines and sailors of his former unit in the battalion classroom.
Popaditch was awarded the Silver Star medal for his actions during a battle in Fallujah, Iraq, in April 2005 while attached to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and is also the co-author of a new book called “Once a Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander’s Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage and Recovery.”
Before Popaditch addressed the Marines and sailors of the battalion, Lt. Col. Thomas J. Gordon, 1st Tanks commanding officer, spoke to his Marines about what Popaditch’s presence represented.
“It’s a little opportunity to reflect on who we are,” said Gordon, a native of Boston.
Gordon also took time to encourage those in attendance to read “Once a Marine.”
“It’s pretty dog-gone inspiring,” said Gordon. “It motivated the heck out of me.”
Popaditch, who wears a black eye patch due to the loss of his right eye in the Fallujah engagement, still mirrored the image of a squared away Marine with a fresh hair cut, slacks and a tucked–in collared shirt, and was presented with a Tanks football jersey by Gordon before being handed the microphone.
When Popaditch took the floor, he opened his address by asking attendees a question.
“Why do we have a Marine Corps?” asked the Hammond, Ind., native. “Is it for college benefits? Is it for posters? Or is it for parades?”
None of the answers above were what Popaditch was looking for.
“We’re here to win our nation’s wars and right now you are very much involved in that,” he said.
While he admitted those Marines marching in parades and posing for posters serve an important role in the Corps, he challenged the Marines and sailors of 1st Tanks to be what he referred to as the ‘04 Marine,’ the Marine who is still manning a rifle at 4 a.m., even though he is hungry, wet, sweaty, and tired.
“When you go to combat you’ll judge yourself a man based on what you do there,” said Popaditch. “Think of the 04 Marine, that’s who you want to be.”
In addition to challenging those in attendance, Popaditch also spoke about such Marine Corps values as honor, courage and commitment, as well as training and leadership.
When talking about these topics Popaditch turned to personal experiences and advice that had been handed down to him.
Popaditch explained that the Marine Corps promotes leadership as way of ensuring mission accomplishment and troop welfare.
While he made it clear mission accomplishment should be put above troop welfare, he also referred to the advice he was once given by a senior Marine who told him “the nation gives you their youth, but they want them back.”
“We take care of them by training them and bringing them back alive,” said Popaditch.
One piece of advice Popaditch, who was medically retired in May 2005 after 15 years of service, offered the junior Marines advice on handling the fear of making mistakes.
“Marines fear making a mistake more than anything else,” said Popaditch. “If you go through training and don’t make mistakes, you’re training was too easy.”
Popaditch stressed this piece of advice because in combat situations Marines and sailors will be faced with hundreds of decision-making opportunities.
“Don’t be afraid to make decisions, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, don’t be afraid to act,” said Popaditch. “If you are completely confused and don’t know what to do, go straight at the enemy.”
Before closing his address, Popaditch spoke about the current insurgency in Iraq and what he believes will be key in undermining the insurgency’s ability to blend in with the local population.
“How do you fight this?” asked Popaditch. “By keeping your honor clean.”
Popaditch said by staying true to the Corps values and honor system, the civilian population can be won over and the insurgency will therefore be dealt a major blow.
“Once you win that civilian population over, that camouflage goes away,” said Popaditch. “Once you make contact with the enemy do not let him go, do not let him get away.”
After a short question and answer session with Popaditch, Cpl. Nathan Fenton, a motor vehicle operator with Headquarters and Service Company, reflected on the war hero’s remarks.
Fenton, a Colombus, Ohio, native, said Popaditch’s speech was good for the junior Marines in the audience because he touched on such important things as combat mindset, preparation and making mistakes.
Cpl. Ryan Chambers, a tank commander with Headquarters and Service Company who served with Popadtich in Operation Iraqi Freedom II, said the message Popaditch spreads is not just important for him personally but for the newest generation of Marines.
“He makes me motivated; just the way he talks about the Marine Corps gives me a whole new look on it,” said Chambers, a native of Paso Robles, Calif. “He talks to the MTV generation and makes us realize how good we have it.”