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Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Nick A. Popaditch, supervisor at Tesla Motors, speaks about the actions of Sgt. Walter K. Singleton during the 17th Annual Sgt. Walter K. Singleton Distinguished Lecture Series held at Warner Hall, Marine Corps Base Quantico May 8. Singleton was killed in action in Vietnam and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1968. The lecture series is held to broaden the leadership perspective of the Corps' future leaders attending the Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Micha R. Pierce

Veteran Marine inspires leadership at lecture series

31 May 2017 | Jeremy Beale/Staff Writer Marine Corps Base Quantico

Over 100 Marine noncommissioned officers gathered at Marine Corps University’s Warner Hall Auditorium aboard base to listen to retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Nick Popaditch speak as part of the 17th Annual Walter K. Singleton Distinguished Lecture Series.

The lecture series was created to memorialize Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Walter Singleton, a young Marine killed in the line of duty during the Vietnam War, but not before he carried numerous wounded Marines across a kill zone to safety and destroyed an enemy’s position.

“From the moment we entered the Corps, we were told about the heroes that laid down their lives for their country,” said Sgt. Maj. Garell Bass, director of the Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy. “We realize we stand on the shoulders of giants and hope one day we may do the same—to fight with a triple heart”

According to Bass, 2017 marks 50 years since Singleton’s death and he could not think of any­one more suitable to talk to the SNCO class than Popaditch—a veteran who served 25 years for his Corps and inspired a generation of tankers to come after him. His intent was to broaden the leadership of the future Marine leaders of the Corps.

“When we talk about why do we do what we do in the Corps, we often over simplify it, mak­ing it way bigger than what it actually is—Semper Fi—Always faithful—God, Corps and Country,” Popdatich said. ”In the Corps we are surrounded by so much greatness all the time that sometimes we forget to notice the giants we walk among every day.”

According to Popaditch, it was the giants such as Singleton that were the reason many Marines sitting in front of him joined the Corps. “There is no better love than he who lays down his life for a friend.”

Both Bass and Popaditch believed it was the triple heart, the sacrifice for God, Corps and Country that shaped Marines of past and present that led to wars won and freedom and liberty preserved.

“This was something any one of us could do if we did the right things, devel­oped character and learned our warrior ethos,” Popaditch said. “If we developed that Semper Fi warrior’s ethos we could walk with those giants and we could be one of them.”

But he believes this could not be obtained without a certain level of com­mitment—something he called the 0400 Marine.

“The 0400 Marine is the real deal guy, that guy at four in the morning cold, tired, wet and wounded who’s up against the wall and believes in the Semper Fi war­rior’s ethos,” he said. “That is the real deal guy that is the one you want to be.”

According to Popaditch, a Marine is far more afraid of making a mistake than of the enemy.

As he told the story of two Marines at a gate post in October 1983 that allowed a truckload of explosives to drive by them and explode next to a barracks full of Marines, killing 240 of them, Popaditch said those Marines would give anything to get those 10 seconds back.

“You don’t get to pick when that time comes, so you’ve got to always spend that time preparing, developing your leader­ship philosophy and getting ready for that moment in time, because when it happens you gotta be ready to react,” Popaditch said.

Popaditch also recalled one of the most symbolic moments of his Marine career—the fall of a statue of Saddam Hussein placed at the center of Baghdad, Iraq with­in Firdos Square.

“When we arrived at Firdos Square, it was simply a great place to set up defense, but for the Iraqi people it took on a strange symbolism to them,” Popaditch said. “The statue of Saddam was a reminder of their oppression, their silence and the threat of death to them and their families.”

However, as the American troops sur­rounded the statue, the symbol of terror slowly became a symbol of peace, as one Iraqi man came to greet the unit at their perimeter and he was welcomed not with a rifle barrel or butt, but rather with a handshake.

“And that is when it hit me I was look­ing at freedom and liberty,” Popaditch said. “I was looking at people who never knew one bit of freedom or liberty in their entire life because they grew up under the unrelenting fists of dictators and I realized I had never known a day without them.”

This victory over tyranny was a small representation of victories past—victories won before he was even born victories his father helped fight for by preventing the spread of communism in Korea or the Raider Battalion that fought against the spread of totalitarian regimes in the Pacific.

Popaditch said he found himself in front of many acts of heroism in the pur­suit of freedom and liberty, but very few paled in comparison to April 7, 2004 as he commanded a combat operation in the city of Fallujah.

As an Al-Qaeda cell mobilized and sur­rounded the Iraqi city, he began to really see what the fight meant.

This was his fight and he stood along­side great men and women from his fellow Marines to a small group of Iraqis his unit had helped train.

“When it came time to fight only a couple dozen Iraqi soldiers showed up and my Marines were mad, but I said, ‘Marines, who is willing to pick up a rifle and fight for their country, I am willing to fight with you,’ and then they replied, ‘We will too gunney,”’ Popaditch said.

During the battle in Fallujah, the gun­nery sergeant’s tank had come under fire and in nearly an instant he had been placed in the fight of his life, as an enemy combatant shot two rocket propelled gre­nades, causing a blast to his face, blinding him.

“I felt my face and neck and it felt pret­ty wet, I knew I was bleeding out pretty badly,” Popaditch said.

As he tried to find his fellow Marines shouting for recognition that they would take command of the tank, he would come to find out his Marine brothers were already stationed on the tank returning fire.

“I couldn’t see my fellow Marines, but if I could I would have seen that they were both wounded too and if I could see the top of the tank, I would have seen that it was on fire. I’m alive today because of these men—these 0400 Marines, because of their training because of their preparation.”

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