TREK NAWA, Afghanistan – Leadership is a fundamental part of the Marine Corps. Leaders train new leaders: from a fire team of four, to Marines at the highest levels.
Corporal Ryan Theis, a squad leader, carries a certain presence with him. He presents a formidable stature at more than 6 feet tall. This is his second deployment, but first as a squad leader. During his time here, he’s already led his Marines through various firefights, and found weapons caches and improvised explosive devices; all while taking good care of the Marines under his charge.
Theis, a native of Fond Du Lic, Wis., was elevated to the position of squad leader while serving in Afghanistan.
“Quality leadership is extremely important in the Marines,” said Theis, currently serving with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “I want my guys under me to know that I know what to do when something happens and that they are in good hands. I wouldn’t want a squad leader I didn’t trust in charge of me.”
Theis has proven himself to his Marines during multiple firefights, as a team leader and now as a squad leader.
“One day we took (enemy) contact, and Theis got me and the other machine gunner into position,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Debruler, a squad automatic weapon gunner in Theis’ squad. “Then (Theis) led us in maneuvering on the enemy. He was decisive during the whole thing.”
Theis demonstrated that same decisiveness and leadership when on patrol. He yelled out commands to the Marines, spreading them out to tactical positions when the patrol took a break, establishing security before resting.
“He makes sound decisions,” said Sgt. Edward Welsh, a squad leader with the company. Theis makes sure to do the little things that’s expected of a good squad leader.
Debruler, a native of Alexandria, Va., said Theis earned the squad's trust by consistently checking on the Marines’ welfare during the deployment and by leading by example.
After leading a patrol, Theis waits outside of the patrol base as his Marines arrive. He asks each one how they are and checks their gear.
Sweat drips from his face and soaks his gear. It’s another hot day in Afghanistan, and he knows water and rest wait for him inside the base, but he was taught putting his Marines first is part of leadership.
“I had a really great squad leader, Sgt. Welsh,” said Theis. “He taught me everything that makes a good squad leader.”
While still a team leader, Theis’ squad leader showed him what a good squad leader looked like, but it was on Theis to take what he learned and apply it.
Theis learned from his squad leaders and applied his leadership skills as a team leader before he was given charge of his own squad.
“They taught me how to read maps and how to control your squad,” said Theis.
Theis needed to learn quickly as fire teams were sometimes sent out separately on patrols.
His time as a team leader proved to the Marines in charge of him that he was ready for the added responsibility.
Theis was made a squad leader a couple weeks ago and the transition from team leader to squad leader proved easy for this Marine.
“I was all for it when I found out he’d be a squad leader,” said Welsh, a native of Cleveland. “He was the best choice hands down, and has done fantastic.”
Theis’ attitude and command of the other Marines made him stand out to his platoon commander.
“I can ask him to do a resupply patrol at 3 a.m. and he’ll say ‘good to go’ and do it,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Hoeksema, a platoon commander with the company.
Squad leaders make decisions that are not always popular with the Marines. As the leader he assigns security duties for night shifts and also has to discipline the Marines when they are wrong.
If a squad has a weak leader it can be difficult for Marines to respect their squad leader’s decisions.
“I’ve seen him correct the young Marines and I’ve seen the way the Marines respond to him,” said Hoeksema, a native of Davenport, Iowa. “He says to do (something) and there is no questioning … Marines say ‘roger that’ and do it; that’s what you need in a squad leader.”
Hoeksema said quality leaders like Theis is what makes the Marine Corps run. His ability to be decisive during firefights, command and correct his Marines and put his squad before himself has made him successful while serving in Afghanistan.
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is part of 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.