MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- On that cold September day in 2001, mixed emotions filled the hearts and minds of many as the wreckage caused was displayed live across America. Some lost family, some lost friends. Some became fearful of the future, and some decided to make a difference.
For Gunnery Sgt. Craig Wilcox, who at the time was a history student, the tragic event would alter his career route and lead him to the Marine Corps, where he would endure numerous deployments and become recognized as a stand-out Marine.
“I remember after the attacks, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” said Wilcox, the company gunnery sergeant for Company A, Headquarters Battalion. “I was majoring in history because I wanted to be a teacher. I came to the decision that instead of finishing school and teaching history, I needed to go out and make history.”
In February of 2002, Wilcox made his way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., where he would earn the title “Marine”.
“My first duty station was at Camp Lejeune with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment,” said Wilcox, a Minnesota native. “While I was there, from 2002-2006, we did four deployments, one to Iraq, two to Afghanistan and one to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
After multiple combat deployments, Wilcox was faced with the decision to re-enlist or accept an honorable discharge and pursue a potential teaching career.
“I decided to extend my contract for the opportunity to go back to Iraq,” Wilcox said. “At this time in my career, I was a sergeant, and that was my best time in the Marines. I loved being a sergeant. I was a squad leader, and in the infantry, that is what it’s all about.”
Wilcox’s experience grew with his fifth deployment. In 2006 he re-enlisted and was relocated to the School of Infantry in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. While there, he trained countless future infantrymen while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waged on. He was meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant before leaving the school.
“While instructing, we had a good foundation of instructors who had a lot of knowledge and experience to bring to the table,” Wilcox said. “One thing I learned is that different grunts from different units do things a lot differently. The end state is usually the same, but it was a great opportunity for us all to learn from each other, and that allowed us to prepare future infantrymen for deployment.”
As a newly promoted staff sergeant, Wilcox was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, where he would leave on a third deployment to Afghanistan, this time with 43 men under his charge.
“I remember the day I was promoted to staff sergeant,” Wilcox said. “An old first sergeant told me ‘Congratulations, you deserve it, but keep this in mind, your time is no longer yours,’. “At the time I didn’t realize what he was saying, but I learned very quickly what he meant. When you are a staff sergeant, [you are] second. Your troops, the mission, become first and foremost, just as they should be.”
Wilcox has become very familiar with being meritoriously promoted. He has received meritorious promotions to private first class, corporal and staff sergeant, and was selected meritoriously to gunnery sergeant.
“He was a stand-out staff sergeant,” said Sgt. Maj. Abel Leal, HQBN sergeant major. “The perception of him is outstanding amongst the senior leaders within HQBN. He is the continuity of the battalion, and a true go-getter. He plays a major role in making this battalion functional. When the board for gunnery sergeant came up, Wilcox was a no-brainer decision.”
Being meritoriously promoted to gunnery sergeant is one of the toughest things to achieve in the Marine Corps. In order to obtain such an honor, a Marine must stand out in all the aspects of being a Marine, and go above and beyond his or her peers, according to Leal.
“He embodies the whole Marine concept,” Leal added. “Those are the kinds of Marines I look for. It is great to have a Marine who is good at their job, but if they don’t make up the whole Marine concept, then it is tough to succeed. Wilcox grasps the concept and proves that on a daily basis.”
To earn the promotion, Wilcox was one of two staff non-commissioned officers affiliated with the Combat Center who were selected to the Marine Corps Training and Education Command board, where Wilcox finished first. After being recognized as a superior Marine in the third and final board at Marine Corps Combat Development Command, he was told he would be promoted.
“When I think of Wilcox, I think of a fire and forget weapon,” said Capt. Shannon Mawson, commanding officer, A Co., HQBN. “I never have to worry about any task that I give him. He is extremely professional and dedicated. I have to constantly kick him out of work. He is a true example for everyone, officer and enlisted. He appreciates and takes his position very serious here, and is an extremely valuable asset for anyone he works for or with.”
Getting your hopes up and worrying about things out of your control are never things to concern yourself with, according to Wilcox.
“This was my third time putting in for a meritorious gunnery sergeant promotion, so I didn’t really get my hopes up,” Wilcox said. “I got my stuff together and told myself the record will speak for itself and at this point it was out of my control. I’ve always believed if you stay focused on the right things, everything else will fall into place. I try to stay as grounded and humble as possible, and if things don’t work out, I figure it’s for a reason.”
Wilcox plans to take advantage of his promotion by furthering his career and continuing to better the Marines under his charge and learn from those above him.
“My philosophy has always been don’t worry too hard about trying to promote yourself,” Wilcox said. “Take your job, learn it inside and out, and just drive on with that. Work as hard as you can, and the accolades will follow. If you spend so much time worrying about yourself, you are going to drop the ball and miss something. Worry about your troops, worry about the mission, and everything else will take care of itself. Thus far, that has worked for me.”
Wilcox, who was officially promoted to gunnery sergeant on Wednesday, will finish his time as the A Co. gunnery sergeant and move into the S-3 training section within HQBN.
Working in the S-3, Wilcox will further have the opportunity to interact and influence Marines, as well as prepare himself for the day he returns to the infantry world and is leading troops into the next fight.
“He lives what he preaches,” Mawson said. “It is not his personality to make himself known. You can tell he loves being a Marine, and he loves taking care of his Marines. You don’t hear him throwing his resume out on the table, or talking about what he’s done, or asking for anyone to give him recognition or credit, because I don’t think he cares about that. He just cares about being a Marine.”