enlisted, you are an adviser. You give
recommendations and you advise
and you give your opinion on
things. You don’t ever really make
policy — and I wanted to make policy. I wanted to change policy. I
wanted to affect policy.
I went to OCS in summer 2000
and I graduated in May 2001. At
Parris Island, you’re told what to
do and you do it by the numbers.
At Officer Candidate School, they
are evaluating your leadership
potential, so the candidates are in
charge. That was the first time I
was introduced to peer leadership.
That’s not an easy thing.
After The Basic School, I was
assigned as an adjutant. My first
duty station was MWSS-371 [Marine Wing Support Squadron-371]
in Yuma, Ariz. The unit was deployed at the time; it was the first
push to Iraq in March 2003. I ended
up being the OIC of the Remain
Behind Element. I learned a ton.
My three-year tour at Yuma
became a one-year tour when Gen.
Amos [3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
(MAW) commander, then-Maj. Gen.
James Amos] asked me to be the
family readiness officer and human
affairs officer under 3rd MAW. It was
a lieutenant colonel’s billet.
It was tough, because Yuma was
the first time I was living alone with
my daughter. She was not yet 2. If it
wasn’t for friends and family, I would
have never been where I am today.
I went to MAG- 16 [Marine
Aircraft Group- 16]. I picked up
captain and forward deployed with
them [to Iraq]. Since we were a
group headquarters, we deployed
for over a year. I took my daughter
to Chicago and she stayed with my
The biggest learning point and
experience that I received from
deploying to Iraq was the joint portion of it, the Air Force personnel
we had to deal with and we had an
Army casualty unit attached to us
as part of the MAG. We all had a
piece to play in this mission and
we can’t do it without each other.
I got selected and went to Quantico to Expeditionary Warfare School,
in May of ’07. It was one of the best
years of my career. There it’s pure
leadership and it’s pure mentorship.
You have to learn the Marine Corps
planning process. You get put into
different billets. I enjoyed learning
those things, because it gives you that
big picture of what everyone does.
I got orders to MMEA- 6, enlisted
retention. What I dealt with was the
re-enlistment and lateral-move pack-
ages that would come in. I moved up
to be the FTAP officer, the First Term
Alignment Plan. We also dealt with
the lateral-move side of the house. It
was a great opportunity to learn and
listen and understand what is impor-
tant, the advice they give enlisted
Marines. As an officer, it was a lot of
tools to put in my toolbox.
Wanting to change policy, I realized, even as an officer, it’s not that
easy. There’s a process, and it takes
time. We had a lot of different working groups where you were able to
write point papers and we had a
direct effect on updating the
Retention Manual, so we made policy during that time frame. It was a
huge learning experience, a reality
check that it takes more than just a
good idea to make policy.
I got orders to go to Parris
Island, from 2010 to 2013. I was a
series commander, company commander and battalion XO [executive officer]. I felt at home. It was a
I was supposed to go to Command and Staff College after my
tour, however I got selected for
command. I was selected to go to
the Naval War College; it was the
first time they allowed an in-resident school to do two of the
three trimesters in resident because
of the slating of command. I doubled up on electives. I’ll be completing that third trimester.
I have my first XO now. It’s the
first time I’m a board-selected commander. For me, it’s all about them,
and the two OSOs [Officer Selection
Officers]. Am I doing right by them?
That is an evolving process. I don’t
pretend to know everything.
These Marines are top notch.
We are asking them to do a job; no
one wants to sell anything. This is
one of the most demanding duties
in the Marine Corps, because
you’re putting people outside their
comfort level, you’re making them
learn a brand new trade and you’re
expecting them to be successful
immediately. Every single one of
these Marines rises to the
occasion. It’s just inspiring.
Maj. Aixa Dones, commanding officer of Recruiting Station Los Angeles, leads
Marine enlistees on a two-mile hike during a pool function at Weapons Field
Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dec. 12.