MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine from the 1st Marine Division has been named the motor transport operations Chief of the Year by the United States Marine Corps’ Motor Transport Association.
Staff Sgt. Lee R. Balderaz, former operations chief of division licensing, was named chief of the year for his tenure at division licensing. As the chief, Balderaz oversaw the operations for all tactical vehicle licensing in the division. Vehicles requiring licenses included High-Mobility, Multi-purpose, Wheeled Vehicle, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, MRAP All-Terrain vehicle and Mine Roller System. Balderaz’ team of 10 Marines also oversaw training hazardous material transport handling.
“Our focus was to support division, especially units that were heading out to deployment,” said Balderaz, 33, originally from Freer, Texas. “We tried to facilitate them by finding out what they need, building a plan and then putting that plan in action.”
Under Balderaz’ leadership, division licensing ran an average of seven simultaneous courses at any given time. Each course included anywhere between 40-80 Marines, depending on the vehicle. Balderaz’ team licensed over 14,000 Marines by the end of the year, allowing those Marines to safely and proficiently operate tactical vehicles.
Balderaz credits his team for working long hours to ensure that Marines in the licensing courses received the proper attention.
Instructors concern themselves with quality of training, even with the short amount of time the course allows because the Marines receiving the licenses will be responsible for the passenger safety, vehicle maintenance and operational readiness, said Balderaz.
“Trying to fit quality training and producing quality operators in a short period of time was challenging,” said Balderaz. “We were able to accomplish this by working extra hours, at times working 60 hours a week.”
Sgt. Walfre Palacios, division licensing platoon sergeant during Balderaz’ tenure, described him as a caring and understanding leader who helped his Marines better themselves.
“He’s the type of leader who gave you space to develop yourself and he always had your back,” said Palacios, 31, from San Diego. “He helped me work on how to conduct myself as an instructor and he helped me improved myself as a Marine.”
Sgt. Jesus Pedraza, Balderaz’ maintenance chief, says his work ethic is one of rare and resilient quality, dedicated primarily to mission accomplishment, quality and troop welfare.
“You don’t see his kind of dedication every day,” said Pedraza, 26, from Austin, Texas. “His favorite saying is ‘Stay proactive, stay ahead.'”
Balderaz stayed at work late into the night until the job was done and until his Marines are taken care of, said Pedraza.
“We handled every adversity that we face with a strong plan,” said Balderaz. “Knowing that my Marines are fully prepared for deployment and being able to give back to them pushes me.”
Balderaz will receive the award during the upcoming Marine Corps’ Motor Transport Symposium.
“I’m humbled. It’s something that I know I couldn’t have done by myself. Without my Marines doing the right things, I wouldn’t be in this position,” said Balderaz.