It wasn’t until his first time in command that Col. Brent S. Willson realized how much he enjoyed providing the much-needed support and guidance to the Marines and Sailors in his charge.
Willson took command of Headquarters and Service Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Aug. 15 during a ceremony at Bordelon Field here. Shortly after the exchange of the battalion’s colors, the new commanding officer told guests at the ceremony he needed all the help he could get in filling his new assignment. His comment reflected his strong desire to focus on the welfare of the Marines – a leadership philosophy he developed during his more than 20-year career in the Marine Corps.
In 1990, Willson became a naval aviator and shortly after, was assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266, where he deployed in support of Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. After participating in Exercise Team Spirit in Korea and attending the Amphibious Warfare School, now known as the Expeditionary Warfare School, in Quantico, Va., he deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in 1996 and supported Operation Silver Wake, which was the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania, and Operation Guardian Retrieval in the Democratic People’s Republic of the Congo.
While serving as the aviation combat element tactics officer for the 26th MEU, Willson led missions in support of Operations Noble Anvil and Allied Harbor during the Kosovo Campaign in 1999. During the Kosovo Campaign, Willson was given his call sign “Quato” from the movie “Total Recall.”
In April 2006, Willson assumed command of HMM-163, which deployed as the ACE with the 13th MEU.
The experience of commanding HMM-163 and his working relationship with his sergeant major at the time, Sgt. Maj. Richard D. Cunningham, made him consider what he could do for his Marines and Sailors, Willson said.
Willson found the focus of his command philosophy during this first time in command. The welfare and professional growth of his Marines and Sailors became paramount.
“I am enormously proud of the accomplishments (while in command) of HMM-163, but what I’m proud of is not our time in Iraq, not all the hours we flew [or], how great we supported the warfighter over there in combat,” Willson said. “What I’m proud of is the success that the Marines and Sailors have gone on to achieve – whether they’ve stayed in or gotten out.”
He realized many Marines and Sailors may not have come from the healthiest family backgrounds or had someone care and look after them.
“We realized how good we had it and looked at the mentorship program as a tool to try to help our Marines and Sailors get some of what we had,” Willson said. “The two of us agreed that night, that was going to be our hallmark. It was going to be our personal report card.”
Cunningham, who is now the 15th MEU Sergeant Major, described Willson’s general concern for the health and welfare of his Marines as a readily-apparent quality.
“He rarely made a major decision without conferring with me on the potential impacts that his decision would have on (the Marines),” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said the Marines and Sailors of the squadron appreciated the attention given to them and noticed how much they cared.
After completing his tour at the squadron, Willson was assigned to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
“I was in charge of procurement of all rotary-wing and tilt-rotor aircraft for the entire Department of Defense,” Willson said. “That was a really big job. It consumed me and I loved it, but I’m really glad that I’m (at HQSVCBN, MARFORPAC).”
Willson said he will not have a hard time transitioning from the air wing to administratively supporting MARFORPAC, because his role is still to support the Marines and Sailors.
“I’ve been in this supporting role my whole career, which to me, fits perfectly with being in this supporting role at this Headquarters and Service Battalion,” Willson said. “It gets me back to my personal and command philosophy about doing everything you possibly can to take care of people.”
Continuing to prove his dedication to his job, Willson promised nothing will ever have to wait because of him. He makes sure the Marines, Sailors and the mission are always taken care of before he takes his pack off for the day.
“Another quality that comes to mind is his infectious work ethic,” Cunningham said. “He made a promise to me that he would never leave any correspondence sitting in his inbox overnight. He followed through on that promise.”
Willson’s experiences and optimistic outlook on work leave him well equipped to be successful in supporting the MARFORPAC commander and staff.
“(Wilson and I) served in combat together in Iraq and those experiences, along with the myriad of leadership challenges being stationed in Southern California presents, truly has given him a long list of experiences that he can fall back on at his current assignment,” Cunningham said.