CAMP AL-MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq -- The twang of guitar strings mixes with the hum of buzzing generators. It's the sound of one of the Corps' newest meritorious staff sergeants, strumming a tune of success: leadership and love of being a Marine.
"I got my first guitar lessons while I was in prison," Staff Sgt. Mike R. Redding, meritoriously promoted April 2, said with a grin.
Don't let the joke fool you, though. Redding has never been arrested for anything in his life. In fact, he's led an exemplary career, pinning on staff sergeant rockers while deployed to Iraq.
"My father was a case worker at a prison, so I used to go to work with him and bring my guitar. An inmate there taught me my first songs when I was 15," said the 27-year-old from Dickinson, N.D. Bringing one of his guitars with him to Iraq allows him to practice whenever he gets the free time.
"Some people smoke a cigarette to relax at the end of the day," Redding said. "Me, I play guitar."
The father of three children - one boy, two girls and one more on the way - has had a recruiting-poster military career. Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1996, he originally wanted to be a sniper.
"A Marine sniper came to our recruiting station one time, and I really liked all his high-speed gear," Redding said.
The six foot tall, 180-pound man was ideal for the needs of the infantry, and attended the School of Infantry West after boot camp. However, joining the elite team of snipers wasn't in the stars for Redding. He was destined for a career with a little more visibility - on the Marine Corps' Silent Drill Platoon.
"I started in the regular marching platoon... and then moved onto the silent drill team in 1998," he said.
Eventually he moved onto the position as the rifle inspector, one of the flashiest and most demanding positions in the unit.
"After that, I got out of the Marines for a year, but then September 11 happened and I got back in," he explained.
He decision, he claims, was in part due to his patriotism and his wife, Sandi.
"My wife was always telling me how I was happier when I was in," Redding explained. "She missed the life, too and the support network (military wives) have."
Redding was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. His first deployment back in uniform took him to Kosovo, Djibouti, Kenya, United Arab Emirates and Iraq. During the deployment, he served as a platoon sergeant and then for a period of time as a platoon commander, a billet normally reserved for officers. Redding then was able to spend time with his wife, kids and his guitar when he returned in May 2003.
The promotion may have just been a matter of plucking the strings in the right order for Redding. For those who know him, however, he's been ready for the responsibilities for some time.
"Staff Sgt. Redding was the first platoon sergeant I had when I joined the unit here," said 1st Lt. John E. Pettinelli, Redding's platoon commander. "Ever since I met him, he's been an example of morale courage and the epitome of a Marine," said.
The Weymouth, Mass. Marine added, "He's always good at getting the junior Marines up to speed and setting the example for them."
His new group of staff noncommissioned officer peers couldn't agree more.
"I can't think of anyone better, he's definitely staff noncommissioned officer material," said Staff Sgt. Christian B. Amason, a platoon sergeant for Company G and a peer of Redding for four months. "He has a maturity level that a lot of NCOs don't have, and I couldn't think of anyone more deserving of the promotion."
In his new role as the liaison, Redding will train and work closely with the new army Iraq that is being built with help of the coalition forces. The same Iraqi men he trains will keep the neighborhood safe where Company G operates.
Although his peers see Redding as the poster-image Marine, they also let out a secret that doesn't necessarily match up with the mud-and-sweat leatherneck image.
"He has this blow-up mattress he takes everywhere with him," Pettinelli explained. "I mean everywhere."
It's a luxury item for the infantry Marines, those who are conditioned to live without some of the creature comforts in life.
"It's funny because he acts like he's hard core, but he sure loves that blow-up mattress," he added.
Although his platoon commander jokes about Redding, he also feels that he is an indispensable part of their unit.
"He's made me a better platoon commander, and helped a lot of Marines do their best," Pettinelli said.
That might be the sweetest music of all to the guitar-picking new staff sergeant.