CAMP RAMADI, Iraq — Unselfishness is one of many leadership traits that help make an effective leader. It is a trait that comes with experience and knowing what is best for your fellow Marines rather than yourself.
Cpl. Melvin D. Irving, Jr., 23, the regimental judge advocate clerk with Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team 6, had unknowingly displayed this trait well before he joined the Marine Corps.
As the starting varsity quarterback and starting varsity shooting guard, Irving has been leading his peers through championships and motivating them during losing streaks. He graduated as an honor-roll student with hopes to play college basketball at West Texas A & M University College of Education and Social Sciences.
Despite his love and passion for football, Irving turned down a football-scholarship to Arkansas Pine Bluff, because of the distance from family.
"I didn't want to play basketball, my heart was with football, but West Texas was closer so I chose basketball," said Irving.
Shortly into his first year at West Texas A & M, he found it hard to stay motivated through school and suddenly lost the desire to continue attending. A few bad decisions and his "golden opportunity" was gone.
"I was young and didn't want to go to class. Without school there wouldn't be basketball, and without basketball there wouldn't be school. Unfortunately at that time in my life I wasn't focused on school and I chose another path," said Irving.
While searching for a new path in life, Irving worked job-to-job and realized he wasn't getting anywhere. After two years of "job-hopping," he sought help from a Marine Corps recruiter.
"The Marines could offer me a purpose in life and could set me up for success," he said.
Irving always knew he would live a positive life, he added. His parents would be proud of anything he did as long as it was positive.
"I always say if I find myself doing something negative in life, then I have to counter it with something positive," he continued. "I took a look at my life after college and realized it was time for that positive change."
As a brother of eight siblings, Irving left his family to become a Marine. He arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., July 31, 2006. For the first month he was the guide, the recruit leader of his platoon. As the guide he was once again the leader of his peers and felt it was meant to be.
"I've always been a leader, never a follower," said Irving.
He found out the hard way that to become an excellent leader, one must become a better follower. When he was fired from guide, he realized he needed to change his leadership style and contribute more as a team player.
"When I was fired from guide, it really affected me. I wanted to be the leader, but I knew I wasn't getting the job done in the best manner possible, so they chose someone else," he said.
Although Irving had played sports since he was 5 years old, he still lacked the physical conditioning of a Marine. He arrived to recruit training weighing 210 pounds and lost 50 pounds in the 13 weeks of what he explained as "the most overwhelming experience of his life." Although he never regained the position of guide, he accomplished the one thing he had set out to do, become a Marine.
His friends couldn't believe their eyes when they saw him in the distinct dress blue uniform, he said.
"My friends thought I was just kidding when I told them about the Marines, but when they saw me after recruit training, they were nothing less than proud," said Irving.
After graduating recruit training, Irving was informed that his original military occupation specialty was no longer available. He was told he would become a legal specialist, handling the paperwork for Marine Corps investigations, trials, immigration, as well as Powers of Attorney, just to name a few.
"When they told me my job wasn't available anymore, I was upset, but once I made it to the school for legal specialists, my eyes were opened," said Irving.
The Texan made his way to the Naval Justice School in Newport, R.I., where his outlook on the Marine Corps would change forever.
"I wasn't sure what to expect after [recruit training], but when I got to Rhode Island it was a whole new world," he said.
He was introduced to a new trade he never would have thought of without the Marine Corps. Irving went on to say that working as a legal specialist was the best job for him as well as something he can take with him whenever he decides to leave the Marine Corps. He is currently finishing the Marine Corps Apprenticeship Program, which will certify him as an official journeyman, meaning he is well rounded in all legal aspects.
During the few months in Rhode Island, Irving contacted his best friend, Stefferon McNeal, who motivated him through all of his roughest days. His friend was playing basketball for the University of Texas at Arlington and they were to meet back home for Christmas. Unfortunately, they would never get the chance to see each other again. In December 2007, Stefferon was shot and killed.
"My brother called me and said my friend was dead and of course I didn't want to believe him. I just kept calling my friend's cell phone, but he never picked up," recalled Irving.
Irving dedicated his Marine Corps career and the rest of his life to his friend and family. He says he must succeed for not only himself but his loved ones as well.
"Stefferon always told me I could do whatever I wanted as long as my heart was in it," said Irving. "So now, I do everything with him in my heart."
Irving is currently deployed to Camp Ramadi, Iraq and is always looking for ways to improve his leadership skills, he says. RCT-6 recently conducted a corporal's course for all the young corporals on Camp Ramadi and its surrounding bases. Irving eagerly volunteered for the course and upon graduation received the Leadership Award.
"The recipient of the Leadership Award is decided by the peers of the course," said Irving. "I was extremely proud to have been chosen by my fellow Marines."
Even though Irving isn't directly in charge of any Marines, he shows the confidence to successfully lead, according to Lt. Col. Eric Kleis, the regimental judge advocate for RCT-6.
"Cpl. Irving has turned into a great 'all-around Marine,' rather than just a good legal clerk," said Kleis. "He has noticeably excelled during this deployment upon being promoted to corporal."
Irving is currently the only enlisted Marine in his office and looks at his officers-in-charge as mentors.
"I really got to know Cpl. Irving as an individual as well as a Marine. I'm impressed with his ability to overcome adversity prior to the Marine Corps and embrace the values he has been taught," said Capt. Neill Wente, the deputy regimental judge advocate for RCT-6.
The unselfish leader is planning to reenlist for another four years and finish his bachelor's degree. He is going to pursue his dreams of becoming a drill instructor in order to change people's lives just as his life was changed when he stepped onto the infamous yellow footprints for recruit training.