By Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
A mortarman turned squad leader plans to use his experiences gained while deployed to teach new Marines as a combat instructor.
Cpl. Ethan Sullivan, squad leader, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, is currently deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan, and has gained significant infantry and leadership skills, which he hopes will prepare him for his next challenge.
“This is my third deployment in four years,” said Sullivan. “But this is my first combat deployment.”
Sullivan, from Santee, Calif., deployed twice with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. Now, he is gaining knowledge in a combat zone.
“I’m thinking of being a combat instructor,” said Sullivan. “I like the infantry, and I want to teach Marines.”
As a combat instructor, Sullivan would teach the basic fundamentals to new Marines. Originally a mortarman, Sullivan and his leadership believe he has much to offer the School of Infantry.
“He could pretty much teach anything in the infantry,” said 1st Lt. Trevor Langley, 1st Platoon commander, Golf Co. “Going from mortars to a rifle squad leader, he went from supporting the riflemen to leading the riflemen. He’s done both jobs well.”
Sullivan impressed his superiors as well as the Marines he leads with his ability to serve as a squad leader during his current deployment.
He seamlessly transitioned from a mortars section leader to an infantry squad leader.
“At first we were a little skeptical because he was a mortarman in charge of riflemen,” said Lance Cpl. Austin Vandervegt, a machinegunner in Sullivan’s squad. “We were all surprised how he took charge of the squad. He was able to uphold and take charge of a different billet and job, which is awesome.”
For Sullivan, it is a chance to develop as a Marine and a leader.
“He’s got the experience, technical knowledge and the personality to teach young Marines,” said Langley.
Sullivan is in charge of eight Marines and one Navy corpsman. His squad regularly works with the Afghan Uniform Police, Afghan Local Police and Afghan National Army operating in the battalion’s area.
“We’ve done a lot of partnered patrols,” said Sullivan. “We go to their bases and talk to them. We discuss partnered operations, but in the end, they are the main effort.”
Going on patrols and operating in a combat environment teaches Sullivan valuable lessons he hopes to pass on to junior Marines.
“Being over here helped a lot,” said Sullivan. “I’ve seen combat and I’m getting a lot out of this deployment. I’ve learned how to deal with situations with junior Marines inside and outside the wire. I know how they react mentally and physically. No one knows how Marines will react in combat (until they see it). I’ve seen that firsthand and know how to handle my Marines.”
These lessons will help Sullivan as an instructor. With the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan, fewer instructors will have experience in combat.
“He’s one of the few (noncommissioned officers) that will be pushing back from Afghanistan that has led his squad in combat situations,” said Langley.
Sullivan will be able to use his experiences to share with the Marines he trains.
“When I was going through training, it was helpful to hear stories from my instructors of when they went through combat,” said Vandervegt, from Denver. “I think it will help him to have those stories.”
Sullivan works hard to take care of his Marines. He checks on their gear and how they are doing both physically and mentally.
“He is passionate about what he does,” said Vandervegt. “He cares about his Marines, and he makes sure we are all taken care of. I think he would make a great combat instructor.”
Sullivan’s squad has been in Afghanistan for several months. Since their arrival, he has patrolled with Afghan National Security Forces, stepped into a rifle squad leader’s billet after being a mortarman, experienced combat and saw how it affected his Marines. As a combat instructor, he plans on using all of these lessons to better prepare new Marines.