CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan— Most Marines are familiar with the concept of leadership by example. One Marine lives it.
Sergeant Christopher R. Contreras, currently deployed with Regimental Combat Team 7 as the assistant chief for the communication electronics maintenance section, isn’t satisfied by leading his Marines with just words.
“If I sit on my ass and tell them to do something, I think that’s a really bad example to set,” Contreras said.
Contreras, 26, is directly responsible for a section of Marines who maintain and repair communication equipment, ensuring the Marines of RCT-7 have the gear they need to accomplish their mission.
“It helps to actually get my hands on gear with my guys so I can kind of coach them through things and teach them the right way to do it properly,” Contreras said.
The Novato, Calif., native originally enlisted in the Marine Corps as an artilleryman because he wanted combat experience. After his first tour of duty, Contreras said he wanted a job that was more technical and challenging, so he made a lateral move into the communications field by becoming a computer and telephone repairman.
“Now that I’m older, I appreciate this (military occupational specialty) more,” Contreras said. “It gives me a chance to lead my Marines more, and it’s more challenging.”
Though Contreras went from being a worker to a leader, he still stays hard at work with his hands-on style of leadership. The effects of this haven’t gone unnoticed.
“It’s accelerated the development of proficiency in the subordinate Marines,” said Master Sgt. John Robison, communication electronics maintenance chief for RCT-7, and Contreras’ staff noncommissioned officer in charge. “It’s not as common as it should be, in my opinion.”
Contreras credits Robison for his development as a leader.
“Master Sgt. Robison is probably the best leader I’ve had since I’ve been in the Marine Corps,” Contreras said. “He’s taught me to do the best that I can with everything, and do it the right way. He’s just made me take a lot of pride in my work.”
Contreras takes not only his own work to heart, but also the work of his Marines. If you ask him what he expects he’ll remember most from his time deployed with RCT-7, he’ll tell you it’s working with his younger Marines every day.
“It’s their first deployment, so I know they’re going to remember it for a long time, and I guess that makes it kind of special that I get to be a part of, you know, their experience,” Contreras said.“I just enjoy working with them every day.”
The abundance of time and pride Contreras takes with his Marines does more than just improve the quality of his Marines’ work. It also benefits them personally.
“It’s absolutely awesome for morale,” Robison said. “No junior Marine doesn’t respect when the senior guys go through the same thing that they’re going through.”
Contreras also said that younger Marines don’t always understand that their efforts can directly impact mission accomplishment for their unit, and for the Marine Corps as a whole.
“I think it’s important to pull them aside and talk to them about why (their job) is important,” Contreras said. “There’s a reason behind everybody’s job in the Marine Corps.”
For a Marine who initially enlisted for the thrill and pride of bringing the fight to our nation’s enemies, nothing in the Corps means more to Contreras than the development and welfare of his junior Marines.
“I do like teaching them new things,” Contreras said. “It sets a good example, I think, by mentoring your Marines, working with them all the time.”