TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. - Col. Austin E. Renforth is known as a charismatic and motivating Marine. He creates an environment where Marines want to do great things and complete the mission.
Prior to his 25-year Marine Corps journey, which eventually led to him assuming command of the 7th Marine Regiment, he grew up in the small, coal-mining and steel-milling community of Wheeling, W.Va. His father was a Marine during World War II and at first, following in his footsteps wasn’t his plan. Renforth, also known as Sparky, never dreamed of being a Marine, but that’s where his path led him. A career which took him out of Wheeling and into the world, helped him achieve dreams he never knew he had.
Growing up, Renforth was an athlete. He played any sport he could sign up for. When he realized his skills on the football field wouldn’t earn him a scholarship, he started looking for other ways out of Wheeling.
“I knew I didn’t want to end up working at a coal mine or a steel mill and I wasn’t as good at football as I thought,” Renforth said. “College just wasn’t there because I couldn’t afford it and I really liked what the Navy had to offer.”
Renforth enlisted in the Navy and made his way out of Wheeling. It didn’t take long for him to advance through the ranks. After two years of service, he seized an opportunity to become an officer. This is where the Sparky who Marines now know was molded and developed into a Marine officer.
“Something people may not know about Sparky is he took the SAT seven times,” said Col. Jay Bargeron, commanding officer, 7th Marine Regiment. “He was determined to get a high enough score to get into the Naval Academy, and he did.”
Renforth knew Bargeron, the Marine who replaced him at the head of the regiment, since they were both second lieutenants. They’ve kept a close relationship since then and Bargeron is even the godfather of Renforth’s oldest son.
While at the Naval Academy, Renforth wasn’t sure about continuing a career with the Navy or choosing the Marine Corps route until he met then Maj. Jim Mattis, who last served as the 11th commander of U.S. Central Command. It was this chance meeting and the allure of the Marine Corps that set Renforth on his path. He saw the Corps as something he was already familiar with, a team. Growing up playing sports, he knew there were roles to be played and he fit into the Marine Corps mentality.
“I tried to be different from my dad, but I just couldn’t help myself,” Renforth said. “It wasn’t just (Mattis). I just related to the Marines more.”
More importantly, Renforth views the Marine Corps as a family. The Marine Corps is his family, according to Renforth. He has treated all his Marines with the utmost dignity and respect because he knows in doing so, he will receive the same in return.
“I don’t think there’s a difference. The Marine Corps is my family,” Renforth said. “I treat all these guys like brothers. I just want the Marines to know that we’re all in this together.”
As a leader, Renforth made time to talk to his Marines. Even from his first day on the job, Renforth couldn’t say enough positive things about the “Magnificent 7th.” Renforth took every opportunity to connect with his Marines, whether it was during a ceremony, training exercise or forward deployed. He created an environment where the Marines were happy to be a part of the team. They understood the mission and because of his committed and unwavering leadership, they weren’t going to let the mission fail.
“Sparky is a unique character in the Marine Corps,” Bargeron said. “He’s a great leader and a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy. You don’t have to read between the lines with him.”
In his two and a half years at the Combat Center, Renforth accomplished many things. Upon his arrival, Renforth oversaw Exercise Urban Thunder, a large, combined-arms exercise using much of the assets from 1st Marine Division. He ensured all of the battalions under the 7th Regiment umbrella had everything they needed for their consecutive deployments. The year prior to his departure from the Combat Center, Renforth was deployed for a year as a regimental combat team commander in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He oversaw them as the last infantry regiment in charge of their area of operation before handing over responsibility to Regional Command Southwest after they redeployed.
“I just want to thank everybody for their support since we’ve been on this journey,” Renforth said. “I’m sad to say that time’s up, but I’m also proud that I got to be a part of this. If my Marine Corps career ended tomorrow, I’d be very satisfied.”
The crowd was still as Renforth relinquished command of “The Magnificent 7th” by symbolically handing over the regiment’s colors to Bargeron. With the closing of this chapter begins the next.
Renforth is moving on to be the director at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
“It’s good to be able to go back to the school house,” Renforth said. “I’m glad I get to be a part of the officers’ academic education, being able to mentor a generation of majors, and try to put an indelible stamp on them.”