BARSTOW, Calif. - Coming from an urban background and having never dealt with horses before, one Marine accepted the daily responsibilities of training, caring for, and showcasing steeds and raised the bar while doing so.
Gunnery Sgt. Mike Bate, the staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow’s Mounted Color Guard, will soon be leaving the equestrian unit to continue his duties as a leader elsewhere; but not before taking his small unit of five Marines from a small-city color guard to a nationally recognized image of the Corps.
Bate came to the MCG after he deployed to Iraq three times as an infantry unit leader with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Following his last deployment with the unit, Bate received orders to MCLB Barstow’s MCG as a cool-down tour. The orders caught Bate by surprise. The first, being sent to a nondeployable unit, and the second, working with horses?
But the Marine gunnery sergeant didn’t look back or think twice.
“I was really surprised when I found out I was going to Barstow to be with the Mounted Color Guard. I grew up in a city and never rode horses before; it was kind of shocking,” said Bate, a native of Philadelphia. “I honestly didn’t even know the Marine Corps had a mounted color guard,” he added.
Bate’s lack of experience with horses didn’t hinder his plans and intentions with the MCG. After spending some time with the base’s Headquarters Battalion as the company gunnery sergeant, Bate went to work, training with his predecessor. What he lacked in experience, Bate made up for with enthusiasm.
“Gunny Bate came in with a lot of plans for the Mounted Color Guard. He’s a people person and was looking to use that to his advantage,” explained Pete McConnell, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant and the former SNCOIC of the MCG. “He wanted to take the Mounted Color Guard to ‘the next level’,” he added.
The next level is exactly where Bate took the MCG. With approval from the base commander, Bate utilized this “western” or “rustic” to showcase his Marines and horses to the public. To do this, Bate took the MCG on the road for more than half the year he was in charge of them, promoting the unit and the Marine Corps as a whole, by participating in dozens of equestrian-based events throughout the country.
“I told Gunny Bate he had free reign to do what he felt was needed to get the Marine Corps’ image out there to the public as long as he was on the road,” explained Col. Daniel P. Ermer, commanding officer of MCLB Barstow. If Bate wasn’t on the road, he was getting the horses and Marines ready to be on the road again, Ermer added.
Using his natural community relations skills and an uncanny silver tongue, Bate made the MCG known throughout the nation by coordinating events from coast to coast, exhibiting his Marines and their horses during national anthems at rodeos, acting as official color guards, and being special guests in towns that have become supporters of the MCG.
Bate explains that visiting with the community they’re performing for before and after the event helps create lasting ties between the MCG and the town.
Not only has Bate traveled the country to exhibit his Marines-on-horseback but he’s also helped by diversifying the unit itself.
“When I came here, the Mounted Color Guard was for infantrymen who were to go on cool down tours after their deployments,” he explained. “I wanted to bring Marines from a broader spectrum. Right now we have Marines who’ve worked in corrections, communications, and music, along with an infantryman.”
Bate’s work to supplement the MCG didn’t stop with new faces though. He also urged outstanding Marines stationed at MCLB Barstow to take up reins as well.
“I’ve been working to get Marines at base who are enthusiastic about riding with us to join in for a few events,” he explained. “I think it works well as an incentive program; it’s a good way to reward Marines who have done well,” he added.
His work with the MCG has been noticed by many, both on and off the base. The commanding officer of the base continues to be impressed by Bate’s work ethic as he continues to promote the Marine Corps’ only mounted color guard.
“It’s incredible how he’s handled the job since he’s come on board as the SNCOIC of the Mounted Color Guard,” said Ermer. “He’s planned so many trips, traveled across the country numerous times, and all with horses and never had any problems.”
Not only has the MCG been making friends on the road, but their supporters are increasing by the minute, as witnessed by their growing fan base on their Facebook page. Bate believes social media is a strong way to gain new followers and keep in contact with the MCG enthusiasts the team’s already met. On the unit’s Facebook page, more 1,500 fans track the activities of the MCG and many want to continue following the unit on their travels across the nation.
“I follow them [on Facebook] because it was some of the best times I had in the Marine Corps,” explained McConnell. “It’s incredible to see how well of a job Bate has done with them. He certainly took them and made them a nationally recognized military unit. I’m proud of him for what he’s been able to do,” added McConnell.
Bate leaves the MCG in May, returning to Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division but not before departing Barstow with a message to the Marines he’s worked with aboard the base and on the road.
“Remember, your image to the public is important at all times,” Bate stressed. “You’re always representing the Corps.”
He’s shown he had what it takes to excel with work he had no prior knowledge in while at MCLB Barstow. It’s now time for the infantry unit leader to continue on his career of mentoring Marines and raising the bar.