CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq --
On May 2, 2009, then Staff Sgt. Jason Eckman was combat-meritoriously promoted to the rank of gunnery sergeant, becoming one of the few Marines that are ever bestowed with the rare honor of being combat-meritoriously promoted to such a prestigious rank.
A meritorious promotion in the Marine Corps is an irregular promotion that allows particular Marines who stand out above their peers to compete against each other on a board of more senior Marines for a small number of predetermined slots to their next rank. The promotions are rare and are much harder to achieve the higher you advance in rank. For this particular gunnery sergeant board, there were only two available slots for all of the personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eckman competed against nine other staff sergeants to earn his promotion.
So how did Eckman get to where he is today?
He describes his whole life as a pathway leading to self-improvement with experiences that have given him the tools and drive to achieve his goals along the way.
“Everything in your career is a stepping stone to improve yourself,” he explained. “I try to stay as well-rounded of a Marine as possible.”
Eckman was born in an average-sized college town in Pennsylvania with a population of approximately 70,000 people.
After finishing high school he decided to forgo college and joined the Marine Corps with hopes that it would give him a jump start to later pursue a career in law enforcement with the Pennsylvania State Police.
Shipping off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., where he was assigned to Company C, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, was an event he describes as one of the first stepping stones towards his current success.
He explained that the training he received as a recruit was a huge starting point that he used to establish a solid foundation.
“It starts at recruit training … to continue on you got to have some good mentors, take the things you like and discard the things you don’t like to make you a well-rounded Marine,” he said.
His formula to success was simple from the beginning – learn and live by the Marine Corps’ 14 leadership traits: judgment, justice, decisiveness, integrity, discipline, tact, initiative, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, knowledge, loyalty, enthusiasm and courage.
“It’s bred into you as a Marine,” he said of the traits.
Upon completion of recruit training and subsequently training in his assigned military occupational specialty as a military policeman, Eckman embarked on a series of assignments and deployments that he said helped him on his quest to become a diverse Marine and “experience all the things the Marine Corps has to offer.”
During his first enlistment in the Marine Corps, Eckman decided to commit to the Corps and make it his career.
“Once I got in the Marine Corps, I enjoyed being in and being part of it,” he said. “That’s why I never got out.”
He went on a deployment as part of a personal security detail for the United States Support Group Haiti in 1999 and caught a glimpse of his future of his current assignment as the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), commanding general’s Personal Security Detail staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
He also completed a west pacific tour with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, visiting multiple countries in Southwest Asia as well as two separate tours to Iraq.
During this time, Eckman was also presented with an opportunity that he credits as one of the largest of the stepping stones, one that was key in teaching him small unit leadership skills – drill instructor duty at a place he knew all too well, Parris Island.
“Being a drill instructor was a huge stepping stone for me,” he said. “The small unit leadership you learn down there really helped me out.”
He said the challenge of forging a group of recruits with different backgrounds and personalities into a team of Marines, taught him many of the skills he uses today.
Soon after finishing his tour as a drill instructor, Eckman found himself in his current billet, a great opportunity that played a decisive part in him earning a combat meritorious promotion.
“Once I finished with the drill field and moved to Camp Lejeune, N.C., I started learning about the PSD,” he said.
He thought that due to his prior background in PSD he may end up joining the MLG (Fwd)’s PSD as the SNCOIC. He was correct and was soon on his third deployment to Iraq, this time at Camp Al Taqaddum.
He said being in PSD is one of his favorite jobs and that the small unit camaraderie makes it a rewarding atmosphere.
“PSD is an outstanding mission,” he explained. “You’re working in that small unit and it’s a lot tighter. The incredible bond we have is one thing I especially enjoy.”
Eckman stated that another big reason for his success is his Marines, whom he said are some of the best in the Marine Corps.
“They talk about the top 10 percent of the Marine Corps … well I have the top two percent under me,” he proudly noted. “They don’t need guidance and their professionalism is outstanding.”
The 14-man team of PSD is made up of mainly infantrymen with a few military policemen, and a Navy corpsman. All of the team members have more than one combat tour under their belt, giving Eckman an experienced, capable team to lead.
After only four months of leading the PSD team throughout Iraq with the 2nd MLG (Fwd) commanding general, Brig. Gen. Juan G. Ayala, Eckman won the combat meritorious promotion to gunnery sergeant, an event he considers one of his greatest moments.
“Obviously I was excited about it,” he said. “It was a true honor.”
In his opinion, gunnery sergeant is one of the best ranks.
“I set a goal when I came into the Marine Corps that I would be a gunnery sergeant,” he said. “To achieve it in this way is one of the greatest achievements in my life.”
On May 2, the promotion ceremony was held and Eckman was promoted by Ayala and the former 2nd MLG (Fwd) sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Carl Green, in front of more than 100 other staff NCOs and officers.
He said it was only natural to have the general and sergeant major promote him because of how great of a command staff they have been.
“I have been blessed to work for a command under a general like Brig. Gen. Ayala,” he said. “He recognizes my capabilities and lets me use them without interfering what so ever.”
Eckman frequently works in close proximity to the general and the command staff, not only providing security for them but also acting as the convoy commander on almost all of the general’s convoys. This includes extensive work such as planning convoys and running them on the tactical level and thinking “on the fly.”
1st Lt. Dan Meyers, the PSD officer-in-charge and Ayala’s aide-de-camp, nominated Eckman because he was a natural choice for a combat meritorious promotion.
“His natural leadership and initiative was far beyond that of a staff sergeant,” he said. “When it came time to put a name forward for a meritorious board, it was a no-brainer for me.”
“It’s really easy to write a package on a Marine who has so many accomplishments, so I was honored to put the package together,” he added.
Meyers said that Eckman is the kind of staff NCO that every young officer needs and that he’s a great leader of Marines.
“I’ve got nothing but confidence in him,” he explained. “He makes my job a whole lot easier because he’s so incredibly competent … the Marines on his team respond well to his leadership. Their flawless execution thus far is a real testament to his ability to train them.”
Eckman said that none of his accomplishments would have been possible without his wife, Jessica.
“I know that she’s taking care of things back home,” he said. “She misses her husband around … but she’s able to manage and has done it now on numerous occasions.”
Eckman said that he still has many aspirations in the Marine Corps, including going back to Parris Island.
“I would love to go back down and be a company first sergeant and would definitely love to be a battalion sergeant major,” he stated.
He said that his future in the Marine Corps depends on his wife and his two-year old daughter, Lillian.
“Most likely I am going to hit my 20-year mark and move on with life and be a family man,” he said. “When I see [the military life] start to take a toll on the family, I am going to be a dad and husband.”