CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- When rounds start coming down range, there are two types of Marines, leaders and followers. One Marine was recognized as an exceptional leader and an outstanding noncommissioned officer; this recognition got him a combat meritorious promotion from sergeant to staff sergeant.
Staff Sergeant William E. Champion, 24, of Jupiter, Fla., a platoon sergeant for Company L, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was one of two Marines chosen from 25 candidates from I Marine Expeditionary Force for meritorious staff sergeant. He was ranked the number one candidate.
"It is a great day for the whole battalion when we have one of our Marines recognized for their performance," said Lt. Col. Matthew A. Lopez, 41, battalion commanding officer and native of Chicago. "We have a lot of great NCOs that have proven themselves under fire. Staff Sergeant Champion is an extremely dedicated Marine. He filled a gunnery sergeant's billet for the entire time he was out here."
What makes Champion's promotion special is the fact that it is a combat meritorious promotion. A promotion based on the caliber of professionalism, performance and leadership in a combat situation. Champion's actions in combat proved to be exceptional.
Sergeant Maj. Wayne R. Bell, sergeant major for the 1st Marine Division, came to Camp Ripper to attend Champion's promotion personally.
"We looked at how he did in combat, his professionalism and courage under fire," said Bell, 47, of Boston. "A combat meritorious promotion is far and above any other promotion in the Marine Corps."
Factors such as physical fitness test scores, rifle scores and education are also taken into account when selecting for these promotions.
Champion's leadership qualities shone when a firefight in Husaybah put the Marines of Company L in danger. April 17 and 18 were days in which Champion demonstrated his leadership under fire.
"What made me more proud was that while the unit suffered a lot of wounded, he kept his composure and they were able to defeat the enemy," said Bell.
"With his tactical employment of the platoon and his ability to take care of the platoon, he was able to pull his Marines together and fight," said Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Huff, sergeant major for the battalion. "He is everything you are looking for in a staff (noncommissioned officer)."
Not only did Champion's superiors notice his leadership abilities, but the Marines he worked with did as well.
Cpl. Bradley S. Palmer, the machine gun section leader with Company L, believes that Champion deserved the promotion.
"He looks out for his Marines," said Palmer, 21, of Columbia, Md. "He'd never make you do anything he wouldn't do. If something had to happen, he would go ahead and do it with you. He puts his Marines first and he is always willing to fight for the platoon."
Through all of the accolades that he received, Champion was rather humble about the promotion.
"I had never heard about (combat meritorious promotions) or seen it. It still hasn't really set it yet," said Champion. "There is a lot of sergeants to pick from out of 25, and I know they all had something good about them too."
Champion attributes his success as a leader to those that he led.
"I give credit more to the platoon," said Champion. "As a leader, quite a bit has changed. I used to think that your subordinates reflected your leadership. But it is actually hand-in-hand that subordinates can make you the leader that you are."
The newly appointed staff sergeant reached his current rank in only five years and nine months. Although fast by comparison to many other Marines of the same rank, it is apparent that Champion had tested his mettle in combat and had all the right traits for the rank.
Once he returns to 29 Palms, Calif., Champion plans on getting ready for the drill field.
"I like that stuff, and it would be nice to go a while without deploying anywhere," said Champion. "I am going to stay in and do my 20 years. First, I'm going to go back to where I came from, (Marine Corps Recruiting Depot Parris Island, S.C.)"