NEAR CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait --
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent visited Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) in Kuwait recently.
Kent, the 16th Marine to hold the Corps'top enlisted slot, was returning from visiting Marines in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
He brought good news from Iraq about the work Marines are doing in the previously violent region that includes the former insurgent strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah.
"Marines have won the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people,"he said, talking to a group of more than 150 Marines from the 22nd MEU (SOC) and other units.
Kent also spoke to the Marines about the changes the Corps is going through as it tries to grow the force in order to afford more time at home for Marines who experience numerous deployment rotations.
Afterward, Kent opened up the floor for questions from the Marines.
Though the crowd of Marines consisted mostly of junior Marines chosen by their leadership for the chance to see the sergeant major, one of the MEU's senior leaders made it a point to be present.
It wasn't the first time Master Sgt. Stephen Heal had met Kent. Though, that first meeting took place before some of the other Marines present had even been born.
"As soon as he started speaking, I knew that was my Senior Drill Instructor. There was, once again, that chill from 23 years ago,"said Heal, the Maintenance Chief for the MEU's Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22.
Heal said his introduction to, then, Staff Sgt. Kent left quite an impression on him.
"He was (there) for us, just like a father would be,"said Heal, a resident of Hubert, N.C. "Nothing has really changed; his voice, his demeanor."
Heal added that Kent seemed, now, to hold the same attitude toward the whole of the enlisted Marine Corps as he had toward the recruit platoon more than two decades ago.
"You can just see in his eyes that he cares a lot about the Marines,"Heal said.
Kent remembered Heal after reference to a particular incident during Heal's time as a recruit.
"I'd been married about 17 days before boot camp,"said Heal.
As Heal and his platoon edged closer to the end of their time in basic training, his parents and his new wife decided that they wanted to surprise him for his graduation.
So, she started calling around, trying to get Heal's graduation date without alerting him.
"She was calling around and happened to get a hold of some Secretary of the Navy-type officials,"Heal said.
He added that while he is fairly certain she only talked to some lower-level"administrative types," the drill instructors took umbrage at his seeming violation of the chain of command.
"I paid,"he said with a chuckle.
Heal said that while the small size of the Corps almost guarantees that career Marines will see the same individuals several times, he has not known any other of his previous leaders who have gone so far.
"Marines have a certain pride and honor when they say your drill instructor, or your senior drill instructor especially, is now the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps,"he said.