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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – In the narrow streets of a small village in eastern Afghanistan in 2009, a patrol comprised of Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers were conversing with locals, when suddenly an insurgent appeared out of a corner and targeted a Marine.
Time froze for Sgt. Dennis Rollins as the attacker pulled the trigger. Without hesitation, one of the ANA soldiers jumped in front of him. The bullet missed and no one was injured, but the bonds formed between those Marines and soldiers were solidified from then on.
Rollins, a supervisor here with Wire Platoon, Communications Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, was on his second deployment supporting a special operations mission when this incident occurred.
As an embedded staff advisor, his mission was to train and coexist with a total of 700 ANA soldiers for nearly a year. Rollins and one other Marine trained the men in everything from rifle skills to hand-to-hand combat. They lived in a mud hut nestled in a tiny village and ate, slept, and worked alongside these soldiers, helping to develop them into a functional security force.
This was not the first time Rollins supported a special operations mission, he also served as security detail in the Philippines, where he spent seven months providing security to the ambassador and other high-ranking officials.
He was selected for that mission because of his exemplary actions in Iraq, where he was responsible for providing thousands of personnel with vital communication lines.
“I had little sleep then,” Rollins recalled. “I would work 20-hour days, and when I did have free time I would take [various military-type classes] or [participate in Marine Corps Martial Arts Program] and help others around the base.”
Today, eight years later, the 27-year-old Rollins, from Colorado Springs, Colo., has deployed six times to a combat zone. During these deployments he received more than two-dozen personal awards and decorations, to include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and Combat Action Ribbon.
What keeps a man so dedicated to the Corps and its values?
“Having an end-state,” Rollins answered. “I did my best to get everyone home. I don’t have a wife or child, but everyone else does. I’d look at their faces and think, ‘I have to get everyone home.’ How can I do that? Strive for excellence and continue forward.”
Rollins just returned from his last deployment in December 2012 and checked into his new unit, CLR-17, where he is already making his mark.
“What sets Sgt. Rollins apart is that his numerous combat deployments have given him excellent leadership traits and a great deal of credibility with the Marines,” said 1st Lt. Alexander Weinstein, a platoon commander with Wire Platoon, CLR-17, Communications Company. “We have no doubt he is a great asset to the platoon and will have a long career in the Marine Corps.”
Out of hundreds of Marines, Rollins was selected to be Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Michael P. Barrett’s roommate during his visit to Camp Pendleton in December 2012.
“I spent several hours with the sergeant major,” Rollins said. “I learned some things [about leadership skills]. He listened to what I had to say and wanted to know how the Marines were doing.”
Rollins said his goal is to become a chief warrant officer and retire in Hawaii. No matter where life takes him, he says he will never lose his Marine mindset.
“You strive for excellence, but every once in a while you see a glimpse of perfection,” he said.