FIREBASE SAENZ, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
FIREBASE SAENZ, Helmand province, Afghanistan—He’s mean, but kind at the same time; small in stature, but a bigger man then what meets the eyes. He is a softy for his daughters when they bat their angelic eyes pleading “please daddy” and a teacher for his Marines. This description, as simple it may be, depicts one of Alpha Battery’s more than capable Howitzer section chiefs: Sgt. Tyler J. Ledbetter.
The Vancouver, Wash., native is a Howitzer section chief and is in charge of the Marines who run 1st Platoon’s Gun-3. The battery is tasked to provide timely and accurate artillery fires to a large number of the coalition forces occupying the northern portion of Helmand province, and it is Ledbetter’s job to ensure those units are supported quickly and safely. One mistake while preparing, loading or firing the M777A2 Howitzer could mean the wrong lives are being put at risk.
“My job primarily is to provide indirect fire for units down range and to make sure everything is done safely on the gun and fast,” said Ledbetter, a three-tour combat veteran. “I’m overall in charge of everything that happens on this howitzer.”
Ledbetter sprints to his Howitzer every time a call for support comes over the radio, forcefully instructing his Marines, “LET’S GO GENTLEMEN; LET’S MOVE!” Each one of his Marines takes crisscrossing paths, like a crossword puzzle, to put on their personal protective gear, stage the ammunition and man their stations on the Howitzer.
Ledbetter expects perfection out of his section, and when one of his Marines makes a mistake, he has no problem with getting on him to swiftly correct the situation. He is also just as quick to commend them for the good job they are doing. The 2005 Evergreen High School graduate said he believes there is a balance between being a tough leader and a kind mentor, a combination that is proving effective for his team.
“He just became a section chief. His first round fired as a section chief was in combat,” said 1st Lt. Dane Sagerholm, a Lebanon, Tenn., native and Ledbetter’s platoon commander. “He carries [his job responsibilities] well and takes his job very seriously. [He is] very passionate — the kind of passion he has isn’t the kind you can teach people to have.”
Ledbetter takes that passion, along with the experience of his past deployments, and applies it to mold his Marines to be the best they can.
“Its been a very unique deployment compared to my past deployments, especially being a section chief and having my own Marines I can mentor,” Ledbetter explained. “I can not only mentor them to make better Marines, but [I’m also] taking time to make them better citizens — better people. It has been amazing to be able to do that.”
Ledbetter said life isn’t about how good a Marine you can be, but is it how you are received by others around you. He stressed in tough situations, it is important to be the bigger man.
“One of my big things is respect. I talk a lot about respect,” explained the avid mixed martial arts enthusiast. “A lot of people say, ‘I’m not going to give him respect unless he gives me respect.’ I always find that funny because if two people are like that, then who is ever going to give that ground. I preach to them to respect people. You give [it] where you need to, and you’re going to be a good person and you’re going to carry on.”
Ledbetter said in that same aspect, he understands not all of his Marines are going to stay in the Marine Corps past their first term, so he uses points like this to mold them for what he calls “the real world.”
“I feel a lot of the Marines are not going to stay in for more than four years. They are going to do their four years and get out, and it is awesome [they served,]” explained Ledbetter. “I can focus on making someone a better Marine for four years, but what happens when they get out? I feel it is important that we prepare these young men for the real world.”
Ledbetter said being a father of three, he knows how hard life can be, and he is only trying to help construct a foundation for the rest of his Marines’ lives.
“I talk to my Marines individually or in a group. I’ll share some of my life experiences, my faults and failures I’ve [had], and the things I’ve done to correct them,” said Ledbetter. “I don’t want any of my Marines to get out of the Marine Corps and struggle. I want to make sure all of them succeed and continue on to greatness.”
Ledbetter’s big-brother mentally and will to be a Marine Corps mentor spurs from his influence to serve his country and follow in the footsteps of those great Americans who came before him — particularly in his family.
“My whole family has been in the service — my grandfather was in Korea and my father was in Vietnam. I really had a calling to serve my country,” said Ledbetter, who joined the Corps in August of 2005. “The Marine Corps is definitely what I wanted to do. Since I could remember, I wanted to be a Marine.”
Another member of his family Ledbetter pulls his personal drive from is his wife. He said after meeting her at a friend’s apartment in high school, he knew she was special. He added he had to practically beg her to date him as a long-haired kid who was a little rough around the edges. Little did she know they would wed just over a year later when he returned from Marine Combat Training.
Ledbetter said she has been more than supportive of his career as a Marine, despite some of the hard times they have come upon during their more than six years together.
“I was deployed for my first two daughter’s births,” explained Ledbetter. “[My wife] is my best friend. I believe 100 percent in what I’m doing and it makes it a little easier (knowing she is there). I know my family supports me.”
Ledbetter said his wife isn’t just supportive of him, but also the other families in the unit. Sagerholm and Ledbetter’s wives both help with family functions, unit information distribution and mentoring the young wives of the other Marines in the battery.
“I truly believe the toughest job in the Marine Corps is being a Marine Corps wife,” said Ledbetter. “Not only does she have to deal with me when I’m home, but she picks up the pieces when I’m gone.”
He said it’s hard being away from his three beautiful daughters, but he copes because his wife regularly sends him photos of the children.
“Sometimes I think she has a camera glued to her hand,” Ledbetter said with a laugh.
He continued to explain the thing he looks forward to most when he gets home is spending time with his family, and he cannot wait for the odd requests from his daughters.
“With my Marines, I’m the guy who holds them accountable and enforces the rules, but back home my girls come to me when they want something,” Ledbetter stated with watery eyes as he imagined the homecoming scene he expects later this year. “They know I’m the pushover at the house.”
Though Ledbetter is not a pushover in reality, few things remain more true of him regardless of who’s looking. He displays a heart of gold, is protective of his family he longs to see, loves his Marines like brothers, and will give it all for the country he serves.
Editor’s note: Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to 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 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.
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This work, Washington Native prepares Marines for future, by SSgt Earnest J. Barnes, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.