Photo Information

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Charles Gutierrez, an automotive maintenance technician assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and a native of the Philippines, works on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle attached to BLT 1/5, 15th MEU, aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset (LPD 25) in the South China Sea May 10, 2024. BK 24 is an annual exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military designed to strengthen bilateral interoperability, capabilities, trust, and cooperation built over decades of shared experiences. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aidan Hekker)

Photo by Cpl. Aidan Hekker

15th MEU Faces: Sgt. Charles Gutierrez

13 May 2024 | Cpl. Aidan Hekker 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

As a young man from Cebu Island with a dream of joining the Philippine Air Force, Charles Gutierrez enrolled at the Philippine State College of Aeronautics to study aircraft maintenance. There, he pursued his associate’s degree but did not complete the bachelor’s degree requirement for him to join the Philippine Air Force. However, Gutierrez still longed for a military career, and this calling took him across the Pacific Ocean in 2017 to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, where he stood on the legendary yellow footprints to become a United States Marine.

Now a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps serving with Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Gutierrez returned to the Philippines aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset (LPD 25) to support Exercise Balikatan 2024 from April 22 - May 8.


Gutierrez was raised in Cebu, an urbanized city located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines. He said early in his upbringing, his family instilled in him the importance of education and pushed him to strive for excellence in all that he does. Day in and day out, Gutierrez went to school and worked at local markets to help provide for his family. He said this kind of life is not unfamiliar to an average person in the Philippines, yet he was eager to explore other opportunities.

“There are so many different ways of life, growing up in a place as diverse as the Philippines," said Gutierrez. "Seeing how hard my family worked growing up motivated me to provide more.”


15th MEU Faces: Sgt. Charles Gutierrez Photo by Cpl. Aidan Hekker
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Charles Gutierrez, an automotive maintenance technician assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and a native of the Philippines, unboxes parts for a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle attached to BLT 1/5, 15th MEU, while working aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset (LPD 25) in the South China Sea May 10, 2024. BK 24 is an annual exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military designed to strengthen bilateral interoperability, capabilities, trust, and cooperation built over decades of shared experiences. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aidan Hekker)

Gutierrez joined the Marine Corps as an automotive maintenance technician, leveraging his education in the Philippines honing his mechanical mindset while gaining experience both as a mechanic and a leader. In June 2023, along with the rest of BLT 1/5, he composited underneath the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. After nearly eight months of pre-deployment training, he and his Marines were prepared to travel to the Indo-Pacific region to train with foreign allies and partners. In January 2024, elements of the 15th MEU embarked aboard Somerset for deployment.

On the Somerset, Gutierrez shoulders the responsibility of ensuring all vehicles are inspected, maintained, and battle-ready for any mission across the full spectrum of military operations. Sporting grease-stained hands, Gutierrez spends hours every week turning wrenches and tightening bolts, ensuring his Marines have vehicles that are at a high state of operational readiness. The grittiness and details of the job are what he says keep him motivated.

“Getting dirty, taking the time to make sure these vehicles are ready to go, is worth it,” said Gutierrez. “Knowing that my work and care is helping complete the mission is extremely rewarding.”

Balikatan is an annual exercise hosted by the Philippines that showcases the ironclad alliance that the U.S. and Philippines have maintained for decades through the Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951. It embodies the solidarity in its Tagalog name, meaning "shoulder-to-shoulder." For Gutierrez, it signifies more than just training but a reunion with his roots.

“Participating in Exercise Balikatan is important for enhancing our skills as a unit and creating partnerships, but to me, it is also coming home.” U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Charles Gutierrez


During the exercise, the vehicles Gutierrez and his Marines maintained enabled the execution of combined joint all-domain operations events across Palawan Island that included a coastal defense exercise in Rizal and an airfield seizure off the beaches of San Vicente. Other bilateral training events focused on subject matter expert exchanges and live-fire ranges, all paving the way for a synchronized multinational force determined to enhance interoperability and readiness to support a free and open Indo-Pacific.

As a Marine and Filipino native, Gutierrez exemplifies the connection between both countries. His resilience has taken him to the other side of the globe and back home again, but this time not just a Filipino, but as a U.S. Marine.


“The Philippines has given me so much that it feels nice to give back,” said Gutierrez. “Every Marine should have the opportunity to participate in Balikatan and experience the Philippines for what it is – a home for all.”