MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
After more than two years as the sergeant major of Marine Corps Base Quantico, it was with high spirits that Sgt. Maj. Laura Brown passed the sword of office to Sgt. Maj. Mark Byrd in a relief and appointment ceremony Dec. 18.
“You will not get tears from me today,” she told friends, family and colleagues in the audience at Little Hall that afternoon. “If I could get up here and do a jig, I would — not because I’m happy to leave but because once you’ve done 29 years, dag! What else can you do?”
When she arrived at Quantico, she said, she couldn’t understand why people were impressed that she was the base’s first female sergeant major. After all, she’d been a sergeant major for six years. Two years later, she said, she understood how the job of an installation sergeant major was different from any of the rank’s other billets.
“I learned in this billet that it’s about communication and dialogue,” she said. “Civilians, they do not listen to barking. You’ve got to learn to communicate and make suggestions and ask like this in this tone.” She turned her voice soft and sweet.
In frequent interactions with the surrounding communities and the media, she said, she felt the responsibility to speak for everyone on the base. “Every day, you represent the whole base, so I hope I did my due diligence.”
Doing so required a lot of knowledge about environmental programs, infrastructure, construction projects and other details.
“Buildings, structures, budgets, roads, oh my!” she said. “And that’s not even my job. But it’s my job to understand it.”
But Col. David Maxwell, base commander, said Brown had made her biggest impact in her direct engagement with the base’s Marines and their families, whether through the Single Marine Program, professional military education sessions, the Exceptional Family Member Program or other avenues, he said, “She has touched everything that talks about taking care of Marines and their families.”
In the community, too, Maxwell said, she was a well-recognized face who was always advocating for the base’s Marines and their families.
To describe her tenure, he sang the opening line of Irving Gordon’s much-covered “Unforgettable.” A couple of notes strayed off key, but the crowd received them enthusiastically nonetheless. Maxwell conceded that Brown had dared him to sing.
He noted that a post on the base’s Facebook page had asked that someone at the ceremony “pass along a big hug and thank-you” to the sergeant major, and he obliged with an onstage embrace.
Brown thanked Maxwell for the level of support he’d given her over the last year and a half, saying, “He looks at me like I’m crazy, but he never tells me no.”
Brown will remain at Quantico to help Marine Corps University stand up a Lance Corporal Leadership Seminar. She advised that anyone she comes to asking for something should “just say yes. It’ll be easier on you.”
Brown’s efforts during her time at Quantico earned her a Legion of Merit, which was presented at the ceremony.
“I’m still going to be here. Don’t act like you don’t know me,” she signed off to a standing ovation.
“I can’t speak like Laura just did,” said Byrd, her replacement. “She’s got a lot under her belt, as you can see.”
However, Byrd is no stranger to Quantico, where he has spent the last two years managing the Performance Evaluation Section of Manpower Management Support Branch. He thanked the Marines and civilians of MMSB for affording him this chance to continue to be a sergeant major by doing their jobs professionally.
Looking over the crowd, he said, “I’ve met some of you. I have not met all of you, but I will.”
Byrd said he would need to hear from all the Marines to be effective as Maxwell’s senior enlisted advisor.
“I’m looking forward to everything we can accomplish here at Marine Corps Base Quantico,” he said. “The bottom line is taking care of Marines. I’ve done that all my career, and I don’t think that’s going to be any different here.”
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