CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The transition from a line company, the muscle and sinew of the Marine Corps, to a staff billet, the Corps’ nervous system, can be jarring. Going from overseeing the day-to-day affairs of more than 200 Marines to planning months ahead is a change of pace.
“I don’t have a platoon or a company anymore. Staff work is not as much small unit preparation and execution,” said Master Sgt. John Collins, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit headquarters commandant. Formerly a company gunnery sergeant, a platoon sergeant, a section leader, and a squad leader, Collins’ responsibility is now the maintenance and operation of the facilities from which the 26th MEU operates, be it the command post at Camp Lejeune, the assault carrier the command element operates on during deployment, or a command operations center set up on shore in another country.
There are many ways to explain the difference between a staff billet and a line billet, but the simplest is this: The staff plans, the line executes. “The staff decides what doors to kick in; the line company kicks them in,” said Collins.
“There (in a line company), it’s more day-to-day and week-to-week. Here, you’re looking months out,” said Capt. Albert Silva, 26th MEU targeting information officer. Silva, formerly commanding officer of Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, was with artillery for more than four years before coming to the MEU. He went from leading his 200 Marines to being directly responsible for one: himself.
Indirectly though, he’ll help influence the operations of more than 2,200 Marines, the strength of the fully composited 26th MEU. Silva said, you go from worrying about the details of your Marines – education, life, promotions – to being concerned about getting the job done and supporting the larger unit as a whole.
The transition from the muscle to the gray matter of the Marine Corps can take some adjustment, said Collins. “The best advice I ever received was that the most important aspect of a staff billet was critical thinking. Take care of yourself physically and mentally, get the proper amount of sleep so you’re thinking clearly,” said Collins. Knee-jerk reactions at this level can get Marines killed.
Taking a staff billet can also be a horizon-broadening experience for Marines who have served solely in line units. “You need to broaden your horizons to a larger understanding of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force – how it all intertwines. You need to understand the staff functions – how your support translates to them meeting their training objectives,” said Silva. “Coming here has opened up my eyes… about how the support we receive at the battalion level gets set up.”