News: Missouri Marine follows in parents’ footsteps
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, Helmand province, Afghanistan — The arrival of a new baby in any family inevitably causes parents and family members to huddle around the child, saying things like “Oh, he has your nose,” or “Those eyes are just like his mother’s,” or “I wonder what he’ll be when he grows up.” One Grandview, Mo., native never thought he’d grow up to be like his parents, but as fate would have it, he fell into formation right behind them.
Lance Cpl. Leo Ostrolencki had no plans in high school to join the Marine Corps, an organization both of his parents dedicated their lives to for more than 20 years. The field artillery radar operator with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, said the military was never something his parents expected from him or his sister when they were growing up, but his decision to follow his parents’ lead has changed his life forever.
“The Marine Corps was never something that was pushed upon me and my sister when we were younger. We never lived on base; we never went to base schools; we always lived out in town and went to public schools,” said Ostrolencki. “To [my parents], it was their decision to join the Marine Corps and make a career in the military. The way they felt was, ‘It was our decision, it wasn’t yours, so you shouldn’t have to live it because we are living it.’”
Ostrolencki explained the military was not something that ever crossed his mind from the ages of 16 to 18. It was a choice that really happened all of a sudden, but has turned into something that defines the very being of who he truly is.
He is currently deployed to Afghanistan with little more than two years in the Marine Corps and serves as a provisional infantryman with the Target Acquisition Platoon in the battery, providing local security for the base while fulfilling everyday responsibilities as a radar operator and meteorologist.
Ostrolencki said there is not a lot of radar equipment in the area for the number of radar operators they have within the platoon, but they stay plenty busy as the gatekeepers of the base. His performance and dedication each day has also led superiors to appoint him as a Sergeant of the Guard, a position designated by a command to maintain good order, discipline and security of the base. He is the only lance corporal within the battery who holds the billet.
“It is something I presented to the first sergeant initially, once I understood the Marine’s strong points and weaknesses. He was completely ok with it; [Ostrolencki] has definitely earned it,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Wilborn, a Severna Park, Md., native and the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Ostrolencki’s platoon. “[The Sergeant of the Guard duty] is an opportunity to be in a position of authority. He has conducted himself in a manner where he has earned that position.”
Wilborn explained Ostrolencki has a desire to constantly improve himself, but is not sure what fuels the fire other than the underlying expectations from his parents, who both retired as gunnery sergeants. Ostrolencki said he believes it is their influence, not expectation, which helps drive his high standards. He mentioned, just like any organization with standards, the Marine Corps has its minimal requirements, but bare minimum and substandard performance are two phrases not in Ostrolencki’s vocabulary.
“I have never been the kind of Marine who just sits with nothing to do and just waits for something to happen,” said the 23-year old. “I am never satisfied. I always want something more, so I continue to do more. ”
Ostrolencki said he does everything he can to further his personal and professional development, to include distance education courses through the Marine Corps Institute and reading books from the Commandant’s Reading List. He has even gone as far as cross training for another occupational specialty while on his current deployment.
“I did it to broaden my horizons,” Ostrolencki explained. “They needed help with the [meteorology section], so I said, ‘Hey, staff sergeant, I’ve got it.’ The first thing I learned was [Pilot Balloon Wind Observations] -- we put a balloon up in the air, track the balloon and [the height and direction of the balloon throughout the day.]”
Ostrolencki said with that information, they are able to judge how the current weather will affect artillery rounds. It took him about three or four times observing, but after that he said he had it down.
“He has a very strong desire to excel and continuously improve himself and those around him. He is very influential to those he is around,” said Wilborn. “He is full of espirit de corps; he has such a pride for the Corps it is overflowing.”
Ostrolencki said the pride he has in the Corps and the motivation to do what is right comes from his parents and the noncommissioned officers who have been appointed over him. He said he has also gained a lot more than just influence from his parents, as his experiences have provided him an understanding of what his parents sacrificed during their years of service.
“When I graduated [recruit training] they both told me, ‘You’re no longer our son; you’re now our brother,’ said Ostrolencki. “The brotherhood of the Marine Corps is so much more than I imagined it being. At our house in Kansas City, there is my dad’s [recruit training] photo and my mom’s [recruit training] photo, and right in between there is the quote on a piece of red velvet from President Reagan, ‘People spend their entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.’ I always read that, but never really had a complete understanding of how important it was and what it meant until I actually became a Marine."
“If you’re not a Marine, you don’t understand it,” he continued. “It is something about the pride. There is something about wearing that uniform … the eagle, globe and anchor. I think [my parents and I] are a lot closer than we used to be. It means the world; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I don’t have any regrets. If I could I would do it all over again, and I’d love every minute of it.”
Though he has the willingness to re-tread the past if it were necessary, Ostrolencki has his sights on the future. He is looking not only to the next rank, but also to his next enlistment.
“I’m talking to the career planner in January or February and signing the papers in March,” said Ostrolencki. “My plan, as of right now, is to re-enlist into this [occupational specialty], but I want to go to [U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command] whenever I get back.”
His senior leadership has seen his initiative and has complete faith he has a bright future in the Marine Corps.
“A lot of other people have started to follow in his footsteps, literally, to try to get to the same goals he’s after. I hold him in high regards because [his influence] is something that, overall, affects the mission and it affects Marines’ careers,” said Wilborn.
“He has a lot of potential, whether it is for four years or 24 years, however long he decides to stay in the Marine Corps.”
Editor’s note: Echo Battery, 2/12, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force 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.