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Sgt. Maj. Gerald Saunders, outgoing sergeant major of Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region - Marine Corps Base Quantico, addresses the audience at his retirement ceremony, held July 8 in Little Hall. Saunders retires with more than 30 years of service to the Marine Corps.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

Sergeant Major Gerald Saunders retires from Marine Corps

11 Jul 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

Sgt. Maj. Charles Williams relieved Sgt. Maj. Gerald Saunders as Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region—Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCINCR-MCBQ) command sergeant major at a ceremony in Little Hall July 8.

Williams graduated in June from Marine Corps University Command and Staff College, which he was selected to attend. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1993 and attended Aviation Operation Specialist training. Within a year of enlisting, he deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an individual augment in support of Operation Sea Signal. After another overseas tour with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron-1, based in Okinawa, he served as drill instructor at Parris Island; company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Service company, Marine Forces Atlantic; and assistant Marine officer instructor for Hampton Roads Naval ROTC Consortium.

In 2009, he deployed with 2nd Marines to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 09.2 and in 2011, he deployed to Libya with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of Operation Unified Protector.

“If you look at [Williams’s] bio, you’ll see he’s been operational,” Col. Joseph Murray, MCINCR-MCBQ commander, said. “He’s very versatile. When not in the fleet, he’s been working in training and education. Growing Marines is another theme of his career.”

The relief and appointment ceremony was followed immediately by a retirement ceremony honoring Saunders, who leaves the service after 30 years.

“Sgt. Maj. Saunders didn’t choose to join the Marine Corps, he was born to it,” Murray said.

He said that when he first met Saunders, who stands over six feet tall and has an imposing physical build, he joked that he wanted the sergeant major to be his offensive tackle.

“His response was ‘Sir, I’m a middle linebacker,’” Murray said. “But in the end, he’s been both positions for me. He’s got that killer instinct but he’s also protected my blindside.”

He said that E-9s—the Marine Corps’s highest enlisted rank, made up of master gunnery sergeants and sergeants major—are what make the service successful, because “they are the ones who focus on the lance corporals, who help develop and grow the Corps.”

Saunders exemplified the role of the E-9, Murray continued, by serving as a drill instructor, inspector/instructor and recruiter, as well as by leading troops during “tough fighting” in Afghanistan.

“He’s helped grow Marines and civilian Marines in his career, and he’s choosing to remain in this area so that he can stay around Marines,” Murray said. “Sgt. Maj. Saunders, you define our Corps.”

“I’m going to be a hot mess up here, so please, please bear with me,” Saunders said as he took the stage. “The Marine Corps has truly been my family.”

He wiped away tears as he thanked his three children for sharing their father with the service for so many years.

“One of the best feelings in the world is to wake up and put this uniform on,” he said. “There’s nothing else like it. It has been an honor.”

Following the official retirement, Saunders requested a “Passing of Old Glory” ceremony. Conducted under lowered lights, this pageant depicts the American flag being passed to a representative of each of the ranks held by the retiring service member while the poem “My Name is Old Glory,” by Don Miller, is read aloud. At the conclusion, Marines presented Saunders with the flag, which had been flown over Lejeune Hall on the June and July birthdays of his mother and father.

The retirement ceremony ended with Saunders standing alone on stage while a Marine recited “The Watch.”

“For thirty years, this Marine has stood watch … Today we are here to say, the watch stands relieved. Relieved by those you have led, guided and trained. Sgt. Maj. Saunders, you stand relieved. We have the watch.”

Marine Corps Base Quantico