Leaping through ranks to retirement: MarForPac sergeant major ends 33-year career
By Cpl. Isis M. Ramirez
| | July 20, 2012
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific bid farewell to its top enlisted Marine here July 19, as Sgt. Maj. James R. Futrell retired after 33 years of service to the Corps, the last three of which he spent as MarForPac’s sergeant major.
Rising to the billet of top enlisted Marine in the Pacific region is a lofty accomplishment. As his journey within the Corps comes to an end, Futrell recollects how he wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a career Marine.
While in high school, the football star had no idea he was going to join the Corps. It wasn’t until a friend urged him to join under the buddy program that he became interested.
After landing on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, S.C., in August 1979, Futrell thought he had made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. Just a week later, he adjusted to the new way of life and became determined.
“Hard work was something we knew,” said Futrell. “It was something instilled in me to make it in life, because my mother and father were both hard workers.”
After basic training, he was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he was introduced to a side of the organization he didn’t want to be a part of.
“While there at Camp Lejeune, it was a pretty rough time for the Marine Corps,” said Futrell. “You were exposed to so much. You had a lot of Vietnam veterans, a lot of drugs and alcohol going on during that time. A lot of people really didn’t care, it seemed, about their career. I was in a bad environment, so I had already made my mind up that in no shape or form was I going to stay in the Marine Corps.”
It was a squad leader that changed his mind.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Futrell said. “And he felt that I should get away from that environment.”
During a morning formation while the company gunnery sergeant sought volunteers for different duty stations, Futrell remembers his corporal pressured him into signing up to go to Okinawa.
Once transferred, he was able to look at the Corps from a different perspective.
“I started meeting other squared-away Marines who took pride in what they did,” Futrell said. “Before I knew it, I was going up for a meritorious corporal board.”
It wasn’t the only board through which he would be promoted. Inspiration from another one of his enlisted leaders led Futrell to decide that as long as he was in the Corps, he was going to give it his best.
“Me and some of the other Marines were sitting around, just complaining … and the company gunny came over and heard us talking,” Futrell said. “He said ‘If you want people to listen to you and respect you, you’ve got to do something about what’s on your collar.’
“So I picked up every rank meritoriously (except for) gunny,” Futrell said.
For Futrell, the drive to be promoted throughout the ranks was rooted in his desire to help others and have the ability to be heard and make a difference.
“The more you have on your collar the more you can do to help people,” Futrell said.
After serving the last 16 of his 33 years in service at the rank of sergeant major, Futrell has come to the end of this chapter. Content with what he has accomplished throughout the years, he only hopes he has helped someone coming through the ranks below him.
“You stop thinking about accomplishments when you get to this level,” Futrell said. “All I’d like to know is that I’ve been a good mentor to some people, to someone, that I was able to give the right advice at the right time. [I want] to be able to say that I have set the example of the MarForPac sergeant major.”
Futrell relinquished the title as MarForPac sergeant major to Sgt. Maj. William T. Stables, who was most recently the sergeant major for 2nd Marine Logistics Group at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Sgt. Maj. Futrell set an incredibly high standard of professional competence for all enlisted Marines to follow,” said Stables. “I consider him as one of the finest Marines that I have served with during my 30 years of service. Sgt. Maj. Futrell will be sorely missed.”