News: Top of the Class: Staff Sgt. Near wins Instructor of the Year
Story by Lance Cpl. Alejandro Bedoya
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- He is a Master Instructor at the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School and recently earned the Master Instructor of the Year award. He’s a combat veteran and a leader in the field. He’s a family man. Staff Sgt. Richard E. Near is a lot of things, but for him, what’s most important is being a teacher.
Battlefield lessons learned
“One of the scariest days of my life was when my team and I were dropped in the heart of Fallujah where every crack or hole in the wall was a potential sniper hole,” Near said. “I was scared because I had absolutely no urban-combat training. They decided to skip that portion of my Marine Combat Training in 2002 and after my experience in Fallujah, I wanted to change that.”
Near has been on three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan and one unit deployment program which took him all over Asia. Near returned to the states on a mission to teach new Marines to fight.
His experience in Fallujah inspired him to be an instructor and mentor for junior Marines. He became a Marine Combat Instructor in 2006 at the School of Infantry on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. He wanted to make sure junior Marines were trained properly.
His experiences in combat gave him ideas to implement new training tools to add realism during Marine Combat Training. This included simulators and combat scenario audio during training.
Eventually, Near wanted to teach Marines what the Marine Corps taught him. He wanted to teach his military occupational specialty as a tactical switching operator.
At the school house
Near received the award for teaching at the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School in 2011 where he taught Marines to be tactical switching operators. These Marines are responsible for connecting the Marine Corps through communications in combat. They install, operate, and maintain wire and cable networks to link key outposts, control points, and headquarters with reliable paths for the transmission of telephone, facsimile, and data services.
“It’s what these Marines are going to be doing for the Corps,” said Near. “I have to teach them about not only the new gear, but the old gear that old knuckle-draggers like me had to drag around. We just had to drag cables and punch things that blink in comparison to today’s vast network technology.”
“Learning from others’ mistakes and successes is the key to an efficient future,” Near said. “My Marines look at me as someone who has been there and done that and I’m still here, so I must be doing something right.”
Passion for teaching
Near has been teaching young Marines for six years out of his nearly 11 years in the Corps.
“Teaching is my absolute passion,” Near said. “It is in my blood; I love to teach. If I could be a teacher for the Marine Corps for the rest of my life, then that is what I would do.”
Even though Near had experience on his side, he didn’t see his students as just students, but teachers as well.
“It is a brain trust here,” Near said. “If you don’t know something, there is someone who does and that includes students.”
Near takes his job beyond teaching, he looks at it as a mentorship opportunity.
“You have to establish a working relationship and mutual trust with your Marines,” Near said. “It doesn’t always have to be a knife hand. I like to lead by example to motivate them and send them in the right direction. I have always enjoyed helping people and I think that’s what it all comes down to. Education is one of the best ways you can help someone.”
Near has placed an emphasis on learning and teaching so much so, it has become a life principle for him.
“Education is nothing unless you give it to someone else,” Near said. “I would tell my students all the time that if I’m not teaching you something and you’re not teaching me something every day, we are wasting time.”
The family man
The young Marines Near teaches motivate him but his family is his main source of support and motivation at the end of the day.
“She is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Near said about his wife.
“My role is to support him in any way I can,” Lindsay Near said. “I like to roll with it and take it as it comes, day by day.”
Lindsay says her husband’s personality is what makes him such a great instructor.
“He is very entertaining,” Lindsay said. “Not only does he get the Marines’ attention but he can hold their attention. No matter what he is teaching, it will be entertaining.”
Lindsay says there is more him to being an instructor then just wanting to help his junior Marines.
“He honestly cares,” Lindsay said. “He cares about each and every student. He wants them to be successful and have a passion for what he does and truly cares.”
Now that Near is an instructor, he gets to spend more time with his family.
“My wife loves that I’m an instructor here,” Near said. “As for my kids, they’re too young. My daughter is only a month old and barely knows how to blow spit bubbles. My two-year-old son only knows camouflage means daddy is going to work.”