News: Competitive spirit, hard work pays off for California Marine
Story by Anthony Ward Jr
AFGHANISTAN - U.S. Marine Sgt. James C. Palacios was instilled with a competitive spirit from an early age. That competitive spirit helped him grow into the leader that he is today.
Like many youth from San Bernardino, Calif., Palacios played several different sports before settling on one that fed his desire to compete.
“In high school I wrestled, played volleyball and baseball,” said Palacios, 25. “But with wrestling the accomplishment of when you beat your opponent or beat someone that’s bigger than you, just that inner pride… it shows what you’re made of.”
“As soon as I joined the wrestling team nothing competed with that pride,” he added. “When you’re on a team, you can play a perfect game but you can still lose from someone else’s mistake. When your going one on one, if you lose its because either he’s better than you or you didn’t try hard enough.”
His determination to succeed drove him to train harder than his teammates.
“Every time at practice I pushed it until I threw up,” said Palacios. “I figured if it was someone out there pushing hard, I had to push harder.”
This determination, desire to succeed and competitive spirit came from his father.
“I come from a family of nine, three other brothers and five sisters and I’m a fraternal twin. Just growing up in a large family you got to find your own way,” Palacios said. “My dad told me anything you want you gotta work for… he never gave me a dollar, I had to work for it.”
Palacios remembers one instance when he approached his father with the news that he had made the wrestling team.
“In high school I came home, I was like ‘Dad! I joined the wrestling team, I need some wrestling shoes’,” said Palacios. “He says, ‘Alright, well how much are they?’ I said, ‘60 dollars.’”
Palacios’ father told him to cut the grass, and handed him 10 dollars once he had finished the job.
“I told him I was still about 50 dollars short,” said Palacios. “And he said, ‘That means you gotta do some more work.’“
Palacios has numerous memories of his father similar to this one. They all reinforce his belief that anything worth having in life requires hard work – a belief that led him to join the Marine Corps.
“The discipline and how [Marines] carry themselves, that was something I wanted to be a part of.” said Palacios of his decision to join the Corps. “Just growing up and being competitive, it was just something I had to do so I could say I did it.”
“When I graduated, I was 17 and I wanted to join but my parents told me no,” said Palacios. “They wouldn’t sign my waiver. I had to wait about five to six months so I could go to the recruiters office and enlist myself.”
After enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserves, he shipped off for boot camp on January 17th, 2005.
Following graduation from boot camp, Palacios found himself working as an aviation operations specialist. After a year, his reserve unit in California sent him to a similar billet at Headquarters Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. After spending a year in Quantico it was time for Palacios to make a decision on his next career move.
“They wanted to extend me for another year,” said Palacios. “At that point in time I had learned a lot of information about how the Marine Corps works.”
Palacios returned to his reserve unit only to find out it had been decommissioned along with many others in the air wing. He was then transferred to another air wing unit that was also decommissioned.
Following the transfers, Palacios expressed his desire to deploy.
“I asked what units are deploying,” said Palacios. “You don’t feel like a Marine until you deployed.”
Palacios decided to join his current civil affairs group, and deployed with them to Helmand province’s Marjah district. There, he put his competitive nature to good use.
“I went to Marjah, we had a team of nine,” said Palacios. “We were training as a team, everyone had their strong points. We were ready to operate as a team.”
The team effort fell apart when the decision was made to have the Marines operate independently with other units throughout the district.
“We get out here and it’s “You guys aren’t going to operate as a team,” added Palacios. “Your going to operate as individuals, we have to maximize out CA efforts.’”
Each Marine was assigned a different area of responsibility. Palacios found himself assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and 3rd Bn., 9th Marines from October 2010 to April 2011. Operating as the lone civil affairs Marine, Palacios had to show what he was made of.
“I was the go to guy,” said Palacios. “I had augmentees that the company gave me, a lieutenant and a staff non commissioned officer but they were mortar men.”
“When they came over to civil affairs they were like ‘What’s this and why am I doing it?’” said Palacios. “They came to me for everything.”
In this unique position, his competitive nature took over and Palacios was ready to overcome obstacles, wrestling them to the ground like he did in high school.
“I was advising company commanders, I was giving him briefs and status updates,” said Palacios. “I was put in a position where I had to take the billet of a staff NCO and an officer, but at the time I was doing it as a corporal.”
His father once told him “anything you want, you gotta work for it.” He took this motto to heart on his first deployment to southern Helmand.
Palacios finds himself deployed to Afghanistan once again, this time in neighboring Khan Neshin district. The competitor in him is still alive and well, but he is now focused on being a member of a team. More importantly, he’s focused on being a leader.
“My dad once told me you can’t be a leader until you’re a follower,” said Palacios. “You can’t tell someone to do this and that and never have done it yourself.”
Palacios has done it and continues to do so. The competitor still thrives, as the leader continues to grow.
Editor’s Note: Civil Affairs Team 4 is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The Unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.