By Rick Rogers, San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer 4/2/04
Forwarded by JackMack
Aboard the Belleau Wood - BGen. Joseph Medina, probably the first Marine to command a flotilla of Navy ships, figures that after 28 years the government is finally getting its money's worth out of him.
This summer, Medina will lead about 5,000 Marines and sailors of Expeditionary Strike Group 3 when the seven-ship contingent, led by the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood, sails from San Diego and Hawaii.
It will be the “911 force” for areas that include the Horn of Africa, a known terrorist bastion, and the always-volatile Persian Gulf.
Of the group, 2,200 are Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton. Most of the ships and sailors are from San Diego.
Medina, 50, embraces his groundbreaking role, relying on humor, nearly three decades of experience and advice from Shakespeare. Also, the move from infantry officer to master and commander isn't as big a step as it might seem, he said yesterday.
After all, he's a Marine who would have been a sailor if a professor at the Naval Academy had had his way.
“I was one of four from the Naval Academy class of 1976 who graduated in physics and the only one to pick the Marines,” Medina said on the bridge of the Belleau Wood, where he watched most of the strike group train just off the coast from Camp Pendleton.
“One of my professors said, 'Why did you waste the government's money?'” he recalled. “Now I can tell him that I didn't waste the government's money after all.”
Medina added that leadership is the key to command, whether it's leading Marines, helping plan the Kosovo air campaign - which he did - or leading a strike group
The sailors under Medina's command agree. “Leadership is leadership,” said Capt. Earl Gay, the Belleau Wood's commanding officer. “I think we are lucky to have him, to tell you the truth. Plus, I think our sailors find it interesting.”
The top enlisted man on the Belleau Wood sees no leadership distinction between a general and an admiral.
“I don't see any difference whatsoever. I see no favoritism on either side,” said Command Master Chief David Knipple, a sailor for nearly 26 years. “Leadership is leadership. His being a Marine isn't even mentioned. He's a group commander who just happens to be a general.”
The strike group is a relatively new concept that recasts the traditional amphibious ready group into a more powerful, more agile force capable of a wide range of missions that U.S. forces might be called on to perform.
Recently, Strike Group 1 - also based mainly in San Diego - returned from deployment, during which it stopped oil smugglers and kept an eye out for terrorists.
On Saturday, Expeditionary Strike Group 3 will end its first exercise as a group. Besides the Belleau Wood, the group is composed of the amphibious transport dock Denver, amphibious dock landing ship Comstock, cruiser Mobile Bay, destroyers Hopper and Pebble, and the attack submarine Charlotte. The Hopper and Charlotte, based in Hawaii, did not participate in this exercise.
Medina was asked about his philosophy for the upcoming training cycles and the pending six-month deployment.
“Shakespeare once said that greatness lies from being able to play your part well,” replied the man with the starring role.