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Sgt. Maj. Abel Leal currently serves as the Headquarters Battalion Sergeant Major, taking the responsibility in October 2013. He served as a drill instructor from 2004 to 2007 aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif.

Photo by Cpl. Lauren Kurkimilis

What I've Learned: Sgt. Maj. Abel Leal

1 Mar 2014 | Cpl. Lauren Kurkimilis

Sgt. Maj. Abel Leal currently serves as the Headquarters Battalion Sergeant Major, taking the responsibility in October 2013. He served as a drill instructor from 2004 to 2007 aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif.

> I lived in Venice for pretty much my whole life. I joined when I was 18 and actually went down to see the recruiter when I was 17.

> If I could, I would definitely still live in (Los Angeles.) It’s my home. Everyone who lives in my area is from generations upon generations of locals. They might move to Hawthorne, (Calif.), or Santa Monica, (Calif.), but they’re all pretty much loyal to the area. They don’t venture to far from their roots.

> My parents went to Venice High and I did too. And then there are my friends who have cousins, brothers and uncles, who all went to Venice High, which is Rydell High, by the way, from “Grease,” and the high school where they filmed “American History X.”

> I played baseball and football. In baseball, I played left field and sometimes center. In football, I played defensive back and I was a slot receiver. I would run the ball and catch so I got all of those cool trick plays.

> My wife and I met in 11th grade math class. It was the second day of school and she was sitting in my seat so I told her to get up. I said, “I was sitting here yesterday,” and she said, “Well, I’m sitting here now.” So, I guess you could say our relationship began with a small argument. We started dating a month or two later, and I proposed to her on prom night.

> I have all girls. Alora is my oldest. She’s 21, Erika is 19, so we had her when I was a (Private First Class) and Ayla is 13. I think I raised them like boys. I definitely treated them like boys. I wasn’t too easy on them or anything. They are all really feminine but they are tough. I almost treated them like Marines so they definitely have a Marine mentality when it comes to life.

> My family and I like to do a lot of things outdoors; camping, hiking, and going to Yosemite (National Park) whenever we can. My kids were always into sports growing up, so every weekend was usually spent at a soccer game or something to do with sports.

> When I was a kid, if something bad happened, I was usually around it. I don’t know why. Maybe it was karma or whatever you want to call it.

> My kids were raised completely different than I was. They pretty much grew up in Carlsbad and for me growing up, I was always in the projects with my friends. My junior high looks like a prison from the outside. We went by it not too long ago and my daughter was like, “That’s your school?” We had drive-by’s at my school and people were getting shot. My kids never had to grow up with that.

> After my daughter was born I started realizing that I needed to grow up and that what was going on around me wasn’t what I was trying to be a part of. So that’s when I started looking at joining the Marine Corps and getting me and my family out of all that.

> The things I learned growing up have helped me as a leader of Marines, in this position (as a battalion sergeant major) especially, because I understand that Marines are going to mess up. I’ve certainly messed up before. No one is perfect, but we deal with the issues and we help them by guiding them in the right direction. That’s what the Marine Corps did for me. It gave me direction.

> My most memorable time in the Marine Corps was in the Philippines. We were in the field where we were showing our maneuvers and tactics to their (Light Armored Vehicle) drivers. So for three weeks we were in this cove, on the beach in the Philippines, with clear blue water. Every night we hung out with them on the beach and the next day, we’d wake up and the duty platoon trained that day and the rest of us were off and could relax. It was an awesome time.

> I was on the drill field from 2004 to 2007. I tell everyone, it was the worst time I’ve ever had and it was the best time I’ve ever had, combined into three years. Those first couple of cycles to the first year are just so rough. You’re working long hours and you’re constantly around the recruits.

> I had always wanted to be a drill instructor, so it came easily for me, personally. It was rough but as far as learning how to run the deck, run the recruits, and learning the training cycles, I picked it up fast. In my first full cycle, I was supposed to be a 4th hat but ended up being a 3rd hat on a three-hat team, so, I was thrust into learning mode.

> I’ve always been there for my family, but I’ve been gone a lot. I always stress to them that it’s quality of time not necessarily quantity. You make the best of the days that you have. If I miss a birthday, then we’ll celebrate it on another day. We don’t get wrapped around dates too much. In this Marine Corps, you really can’t.

> For me, it’s harder the higher you get because as you get closer to sergeant major, the further you get from the Marines, but I like being around the Marines. That’s why you see me walking around so much. I think I’m an engaged leader. I don’t need to be involved in everything, but I want to have visibility on everything.

> There’s no way I could retire any time soon. I’m not ready to leave.

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