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Air Station Has First Meritorious Gunny in Operating Forces

By Cpl. S.K. D'Alessio | | January 26, 2001

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An aircraft mechanic from Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 was the first and only Marine in the Corps' operating forces last year to be meritoriously promoted to gunnery sergeant.


Gunnery Sergeant Terry Santus, VMFA(AW)-533 airframes quality assurance representative was the first Marine to be selected for meritorious promotion under the Corps' new policy.


On October 2 of last year, the Corps instituted a new promotion policy enabling staff sergeants, with the exception of those in "B" billets and reservists, to be eligible for meritorious promotions. Under the new policy, only one staff sergeant can be meritoriously promoted per year.
Lieutenant Colonel Mant C. Hawkins Jr., VMFA(AW)-533 commanding officer, spoke to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general before Santus was promoted. Hawkins wanted to make sure the general was aware of Santus' devotion to his Marines and the fact that these characteristics made him a valuable asset to his command.


"I have known, served and deployed with Staff Sergeant Santus for over ten years," said Hawkins. "He is the finest staff sergeant I know. He is the most talented aircraft mechanic in MAG-31 (Marine Aircraft Group 31) and more importantly, he is an exceptional leader of Marines."
Without a doubt, Santus was ready for the next rank, as his leadership qualities in the squadron's airframes section proved to be unfailing.
"Leading by example puts no question in your subordinates' minds as to what they're supposed to do or how to do it," said Santus. "Leading by example simply sets a good example."


Like most meritorious promotions, which use the "whole Marine" concept, this Indiana, Penn., native's performance, military education and ability to fill the next rank were taken into consideration. Santus had his staff non-commissioned officer resident and non-resident primary military education completed as well a near perfect physical fitness score of 289. But after competing against Marines with similar qualifications, it was Santus' work ethic and career history that pushed him over the top.


"Except in combat situations, Marines in the staff NCO ranks just don't get meritoriously promoted," said Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Cummings, VMFA(AW)-533 sergeant major. "Out of 17 staff sergeants in this squadron, I only had two that met the criteria."


Once Santus was selected to compete in the squadron-level board, he had a fifty- percent chance of winning and continuing up to the MAG-31 board, where several other Marines from the squadrons competed for the promotion.


"Choosing between two exceptional Marines made it extremely tough for the board members at the squadron level," said Cummings. "But when Gunny Santus went to the group (MAG-31 board) he won it hands down."


Following the Air Station boards, Santus' package was sent to the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing board for review. Shortly after, he was selected for promotion from among hundreds of other finalists.


"I've never won a meritorious board before," said Santus. "I don't even have a NAM (Navy Achievement Medal), but I think it was my successful tour on 'the street' that helped me," he said about his tour of duty on Parris Island's drill field.


During his tour, he accomplished some impressive feats - including being selected to lead his platoon of recruits through the first running of the Crucible.


It was also at Parris Island where he was twice named drill instructor of the month and drill instructor of the quarter. All of these achievements proved his ability to excel beyond his given rank and billet, especially when as a sergeant, Santus was chosen to hold a staff NCO billet as senior drill instructor.


Santus applied what he learned about leadership on the drill field and helped his squadron gain success during three deployments from 1997 to 1999, including a combat deployment to Taszar, Hungary, where the squadron never faltered on a sortie.


Currently, Santus is working on the first leg of his six-month deployment to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan and is expecting another successful tour.


"Being on deployment always presents new challenges," said Santus. "That's what being a leader is all about -- training and mentoring tomorrow's Marines for those challenges."


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