MUSA QAL’EH DISTRICT, AFGHANISTAN
MUSA QAL’EH DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Lance Cpl. Michael S. Ussery walked into the Echo Company headquarters to begin his morning routine as one of the company clerks and didn’t pay much attention to who was in the office. Then he heard a voice that made his body lock into place and stare into the abyss like a recruit during his first few unsure moments aboard a Marine Corps recruit depot. An all-too-familiar voice belted, “I know you’re going to say something there you!”
The voice belonged to Staff Sgt. Peter S. Ramos, a Patterson, N.J., native and Ussery’s former drill instructor. Their reunion came a couple years after Ramos marched Ussery across the parade deck during graduation from recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Ramos is now the platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, Echo Company, and has two former recruits serving under his charge.
Ramos serves as the senior enlisted Marine in his platoon and advises the platoon commander in administrative, logistical, and tactical decisions concerning the platoon.
He is also in charge of ensuring the morale, welfare and discipline of the troops in his platoon, which was also a large portion of his job as a drill instructor. He said his experience as a drill instructor plays a big part in how he trains the Marines under his supervision and care.
Ramos, who joined the Marine Corps just days before 9/11, was aware of the possibility of deploying to combat, but did not foresee the likelihood of such a deployment during a time of peace. That stood true until news of the terrorist attacks changed the outlook of his drill instructors and the face of the training regimen at the recruit depot.
“Recruit Ramos thought it was kind of crazy just because … I joined the Marine Corps before 9/11 -- peacetime -- but I know (recruit training) got a little tougher just because of it,” said Ramos. “Our drill instructors tried to make us a little harder knowing that we were going to be going into combat.”
His drill instructors were right, and, as expected, Ramos deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The muscle memory learned and the intensity of recruit training stayed with him through his deployments.
Ramos was assigned to drill instructor duty in 2007, after his second combat deployment, and he said he did not give his recruits any more slack then he received. The two-time combat veteran knew the recruits he trained could possibly deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
Ussery, a Rochelle, Ga., native is one of many former recruits Ramos has come across after leaving drill instructor duty in 2010. Ussery said it was quite a shock to see his drill instructor check into his unit, but added it is fun to be able to bring up memories of recruit training.
When Ramos checked into Echo Company, Ussery told his fellow Marines all of his vivid memories of the once-feared drill instructor. Ramos said some of the Marines were apprehensive at first, while others were downright scared of him. Stories of “Drill Instructor Sergeant Ramos” quickly spread throughout the company, and Ramos’ former recruits were afraid they had warped back in time.
“I was there with them as civilians and saw them transform into Marines. You always wonder as a drill instructor how your (former) recruits are doing in the fleet,” said Ramos. “When I saw Lance Cpl. (Jacob S.) Brehm, it was like he saw a ghost,” said Ramos. “(It was) funny to see that, but at the same time, it tells me I did my job as a drill instructor on Parris Island.”
“It was a shock at first whenever I saw him, but it is fun being able to bring up recruit training and bring up those memories,” added Ussery. “I was trying to get into his platoon. He is a good leader, and I thought it would be funny to have my drill instructor as my platoon sergeant.”
Ramos said after some time and training exercises, the Marines who feared him later began to see him for who he really is and not the hard-nosed drill instructor he had to be not long ago. Ramos said the two billets have their differences, but also have many similarities.
“As a platoon sergeant I do the same thing. I’m in charge of their gear; I’m in charge of their morale; I’m that sanity check between them and everyone else. To me the biggest difference is I don’t have a campaign cover on right now,” said Ramos.
Ramos traded in his campaign cover, the famed “Smokey the Bear” style hat Marine drill instructors wear, for a hardened Kevlar helmet covered in a desert-digital pattern after three years of duty as a drill instructor.
The 30-year old is now on his third combat deployment, but the first to Afghanistan. Ramos recently led his Marines on an operation to clear an area of insurgents and help establish new security posts for the Afghan Uniformed Police during Operation Double Check.
The blades of a CH-53 Sea Stallion stirred up the Afghan dust as the heavy helicopter came in to land, but it did not shake Ramos’ Marines’ composure as they debarked in a known hostile area. Ramos had no worries with his men’s ability to perform because he oversaw their training. He said they rehearsed their objectives and capabilities before setting out on the mission.
“You feel confident for the fact you rehearse it two or three times a day before the operation. The Marines understand the ground; they know the ins and outs of the operation; by the time it comes (to depart), you’re fine,” said Ramos. “If anyone wants to fire at us when we have a whole platoon on the deck, that’s a poor choice on them.”
His Marines stormed known enemy bed-down locations with the AUP patrolmen during the cold of night. Ussery said Ramos brings a lot to the table in terms of combat experience, and the platoon values that about him.
“Him leading you into combat, it’s nice because he has a lot of experience,” said Ussery. “He’s been in the Marine Corps, he’s been to Iraq, and now he’s been to Afghanistan. He knows a lot more (than us); he’s always teaching.”
Ramos said being able to lead his Marines and former recruits into combat means a lot to him. His experience as a leader, especially while leading troops into combat, is a reminder to himself that he is not just an authoritarian, but also the big-brother role model. As a platoon sergeant in a combat zone, he must balance the two roles.
“Just being a platoon sergeant in general, you’re kind of like the mentor with the younger Marines. You (have to) keep their head on a swivel, especially out here in combat,” said Ramos. “Morale and discipline are big things as a staff sergeant (infantryman).”
“He’s always keeping me in line, even now. If you need advise or you need anything, Staff Sergeant Ramos (is the person) you go to,” added Ussery. “He is that drill instructor, that platoon sergeant, as well as that father figure.”
Ramos has developed his role throughout his career, and he embraces it to the fullest.
“It is a privilege just to be a Marine, especially to lead Marines into combat. Throughout my experience in the Marine Corps, this is as tight as you become with your Marines out here,” said Ramos. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this. Nowhere else in the world are you going to have 50 guys you can teach, coach and mentor. If they do four years, they do four years, but you know you made an impact on their life when it comes to that.”
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6 in 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, New Jersey Marine takes troops from Parris Island to Afghanistan, by SSgt Earnest J. Barnes, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.