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Amtrac commander redefines role of combat leader

26 Aug 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Sgt. William D. Dycus didn’t write the book on what it takes to be an amphibious assault vehicle commander.  He completely rewrote it.

Dycus, a 21-year-old from Vidor, Texas, is redefining what it means to be a combat leader.  His performance in combat was impressive enough to earn him a combat meritorious promotion to his present rank from Regimental Combat Team 5.  He’s a Marine respected by his peers and admired by his Marines because of the cool, calm demeanor he displays even in the hottest of action.

Dycus is assigned to D Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, RCT-5.

“He’s an aggressive vehicle commander who knows how to support the infantry on the ground,” said Capt. William E. O’Brien, the 36-year-old D Company commander from Moline, Ill.  “He earns a huge amount of respect from his seniors.  He’s calm and collected in stressful situations and tactically aggressive.”

Dycus has a track record of combat success.  He earned a selection as Marine of the Quarter for RCT-8 on his first tour to Iraq and was selected as Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter for RCT-5 before being selected for his promotion.

“He’s a stud,” O’Brien said.  “I’ve known him for almost two years and from the beginning he’s been a quiet kid with the fortitude to stand up.”

Master Sgt. Richard W. Cover, a 41-year-old operations chief for the company, said Dycus is the sort of leader Marines flock to in combat.  He anticipates needs, prepares his crew and puts the mission ahead of everything.

“He’s a good strong presence,” said Cover, from Mars, Pa.  “He portrays a lot of force.  He’s not boisterous, just a quiet strong leader.”

Dycus is all business around his Marines.  Prior to a recent patrol, he stood inside his amphibious assault vehicle, also called an “amtrac,” with beads of sweat dripping off his cleanly-shaved head.  His crew moved about him, listening to his instructions.  In minutes, they were ready to leave. 

“My responsibilities include keeping the ‘trac’ up, shoot, move and communicate,” Dycus said.  “Once you get a good row going, this takes five minutes.  When we first started with this crew, it would take us an hour to be ready.”

Dycus is responsible not just for the performance of the Marines and their amtrac in combat, but keeping it ready for the fight too.  That’s not an easy task.  Vehicles, especially those like the amtracs, are wearing out much faster than they do in normal training cycles.

“Some of these ‘hogs’ have been here since the first push,” Dycus explained.  “They’re old.  The transmissions are wearing down.  They leak.  The tracks are worn because of all the driving we do. 

“Once they get old, they start falling apart,” he added.  “We have to keep them running.”

Dycus does that by working with his Marines to constantly stay on top of growing problems.  They know their vehicle inside and out.  They dote over it like a mother hen over a brood of chicks.

“I’m a stress monster,” Dycus admitted.  “I think that makes me a better Marine because I worry about the little stuff.”

It’s not just the amtrac he worries about.  He’s constantly looking out for his Marines.  He tough with them and holds them to high, rigid standards.  He’s also the voice of reassurance they seek out when they’ve got concerns.

“That’s something special about him,” said Staff Sgt. Justin K. Mayville, Dycus’s section leader.  “Even Marines in other sections come ask him for help.  They have a lot of respect for him.”

Mayville said Dycus can laugh and joke with his Marines but always maintains an air of professionalism.

“He’s got a good sense of humor,” said Mayville, a 28-year-old from Killeen, Texas.  “But he’s firm when he needs to be.  That’s what I like about him.  He can handle the stress pretty well.”

Dycus has seen his fair share of stressful situations in Iraq.  During this tour, he supported Marines pushing into new areas of operations near Habbaniyah.  They were areas that had seen little or no U.S. forces and initially, Marines met stiff resistance.

Dycus was guiding his Marines on a patrol supporting infantry in Habbaniyah.  There was a sniper threat, so he ordered his Marines to ride low in their turrets to keep a low profile.  It was then an insurgent sniper’s bullet crashed through the earpiece of his crewman’s helmet and ricocheted off his turret.

“The first couple minutes were insane,” Dycus recalled.  “Once it was over, we laughed about it.”

It’s an incident he admitted he hadn’t yet told to his wife, Holly.  He keeps pictures of her taped to the inside of his vehicle.  Against one of the bright-green aluminum panels are pictures of Dycus and his wife at the Marine Corps ball along with pictures of him and his two-year-old daughter, Emma.  He said there’s another baby on the way.

Dycus said Holly is a large part of the reason he’s able to concentrate so fully on his mission in Iraq.  He knows she’s got things wrapped up at home.

“She takes care of family and I take care of them,” he explained regarding his devotion to his Marines.  “I couldn’t do both.

“I miss them,” he added about his growing family.  “I look at those pictures when we’re sitting on post.”

It’s during those quiet hours on observations posts and the hectic maintenance schedules on the ramp that Dycus tends to his Marines, a second family for him.

“They look and see I’m a good Marine,” he said.  “They want someone who cares about the Marine Corps and cares about their job.”

Cpl. Manuel A. Castellano, a 24-year-old crewman from New York City, labeled Dycus as “one of the best NCO’s in the Marine Corps.”

“He’s a great leader, especially to someone like me who made a couple mistakes early on,” Castellano said.  “He told me I could make it over the mountain and pick up NCO before I get out.”

Lance Cpl. John D. Darmody, a 20-year-old crewman from Allen Park, Mich., said Dycus has been that example of what it means to be a combat leader since he first arrived at the company.

“He taught me everything I know about the ‘trac,’” Darmody said.  “I’ve modeled myself after him.  I try to emulate him.  He’s beyond a vehicle commander.  He’s definitely the Marine to be.”

For his part, Dycus is quiet about his promotion.  He doesn’t take it lightly, but rather sees it as part of an aggressive step in increased responsibilities.  He hopes to attend Drill Instructor’s School after completing this tour in Iraq.

“I tell the Marines to do what you’re supposed to and you’ll go back to the states,” he said.  “I don’t want anybody to get hurt.  They know I know what I’m doing.  I bring a lot of knowledge from the last deployment, and I’m not scared to pull the trigger.”