MARINE CORPS AUXILIARY LANDING FIELD BOGUE, N.C. — Staff Sgt. Jessie McDonald is only a few years older than some of the Marines he supervises, but one lance corporal who looks up to him already knows it’s McDonald’s leadership style he intends to emulate when the time comes to assume such responsibility.
That’s high praise — coming from a lance corporal.
McDonald, 28, is a drafting and surveying chief with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 here. He and his Marines work closely with the Corps’ combat engineers, often teaming on construction projects, and he makes it a point to cross-train everyone to the extent possible so the two military occupational specialties can function cohesively and get the job done quickly. If that means one of his guys picks up a jackhammer to knock out part of a runway project, so be it.
“He gets in and does the same stuff that we do,” said Lance Cpl. Kenneth Storvick, one of the combat engineers working alongside McDonald here in June. “[And] there’s stuff about drafting and surveying that I never even knew was possible that I’ve learned from him.”
McDonald’s superiors and contemporaries describe the Ohio native as the perfect role model — one his junior Marines admire, respect and gravitate toward. It’s for this reason that McDonald is the 2012 Marine Corps Times Marine of the Year.
Before his transfer to North Carolina last year, McDonald spent three years at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., as an instructor in the Technical Engineer Specialist Course, which teaches the trade to junior troops from all of the military services. As a Marine on an Army base, his presence was noticed in more ways than one. For instance, when McDonald was tasked with getting the Marines on base involved in the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, it took only a few meetings for him to realize the organization could do better. And with the help of another instructor from the Air Force, they set out to change things.
“When I got there, they were just doing card games at the library once every two weeks,” McDonald said. “Right then and there we decided, ‘This is not going to work for us. We can raise money, we’re going to turn this program into something worthwhile and get more people involved.’”
Within a year, they increased regular attendance from fewer than 10 to more than 100, taking overnight snowboarding trips, dinner cruises on Lake of the Ozarks, and trips to concerts and ballgames.
He also served as barracks manager for the Marines at Fort Leonard Wood — and took the role seriously, seeing that Marines had a comfortable place to live, whether that meant making sure they had fresh linens or working toilets.
McDonald continues to help the Single Marines Program at nearby Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. — and he encourages others to pitch in.
“It’s the individual morale of that Marine that matters because it’s not only going to affect his disposition, but the amount of training he sucks up if he’s disgruntled and upset all the time,” McDonald said.
Filling that big brother role earned his Marines’ respect. He’s been described as tough but fair, and that goes a long way, Storvick said.
“He sets the example by correcting people and making sure they do the right things,” he said. “The first day we met him, we had a uniform inspection and he ran it. It was a good way to meet him because he did that and then said: ‘I’m Staff Sgt. McDonald. Nice to meet all of you.’”
McDonald pushes his Marines to get off base and into the community for volunteer work. He said it’s important that local civilians see the Marines are around to help. He organized a group to help set up and take down tents during a fundraising event for the local fire department.
“We were out there till almost 2300 both nights, setting up and tearing down for them,” McDonald said. “But that’s what they needed, and we didn’t have any hesitation going out there because we knew we were supporting a good cause.” While in Missouri, he volunteered for an animal shelter, building kennels and saving the organization $1,500. McDonald also received a certificate of appreciation from the mayor of St. Robert, Mo., for his work building a pedestrian bridge and nearly 1,000 feet of walking trail, saving the city thousands of dollars and providing a cool outdoor space for local residents.
Asked how he developed his leadership style, McDonald said he has tried to pull one trait from all of the leaders he’s admired over the years. He adds his personal brand of humor to relate to Marines, and sometimes to impart a lesson. A private first class, for instance, recently told McDonald he bought a washer and dryer from Rent-A-Center for around $1,200.
“After we got done making fun of him for being a dummy, we showed him a website where you can buy a used set for about $400,” he said. “We talked to him to see if he needed a truck [and] helped him get the cheaper washer and dryer and return the expensive one so they weren’t paying a fortune for something that shouldn’t cost so much.
“I’ve been in their shoes,” he added, “and I’ve learned a couple of things. I want my Marines to know they can come and talk to me.”