MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- Many Marines go through their initial enlistment wondering what they will do when their contract is over. Some get out and lead productive lives in the civilian sector, while others stay in to live the adventurous life of a Marine.
Sergeant Major Gary J. Rivard, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron sergeant major, is one who wanted to stay for the long haul. During his 24-year career, Rivard has amassed a wealth of advice about how to succeed in the Corps, although after completing high school, he never thought of joining the Marine Corps.
“I was going to go to college,” Rivard said.
But one day he decided to go out with a couple of his friends and he met somebody that would change his mind.
“We met a Marine recruiter and they (his friends) wanted to go in, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go in’,” Rivard said.
“We were sober,” he said as he chuckled. “It was a conscious decision.”
It was a decision that would change his life forever.
The Beverly, Mass., native enlisted in July 1980 from Boston. After completing recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., he was assigned to Schools Battalion, Del Mar, Camp Pendleton, Calif., and later ordered to 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he performed duties as an amphibious assault vehicle crewman and deployed four times.
Many Marines can become tired of so many deployments in such a short period of time, but not this Marine.
“Deployments have always been the most exciting part of my career because I’ve seen the world from Asia to Europe and Norway to the Caribbean,” Rivard said. “How many civilians can say that and mean it?”
There was also more cohesion and camaraderie within the deployed Marines than there was within Marines stateside, according to Rivard.
After completing his tour, he reported to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, Calif., in June 1984 for duty with the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, and later, in December 1985, to the 1st Tracked Vehicle Battalion, Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan.
In December 1986, Rivard was assigned to Drill Instructor School at MCRD Parris Island, and later to Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion as a drill instructor.
After his lateral move into aviation, he completed school in Millington, Tenn. and was ordered to Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31, where he served as a hydraulic/pneumatic mechanic for the F/A-18 Hornet.
Upon completion of his tour with the Stingers, Rivard reported to Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., in May 1993.
While there, he took a short break to attend the Advanced Course at MCAS El Toro, Calif., in August 1994.
In July 1996, Rivard was ordered back to Beaufort, and in June 1999, upon promotion to first sergeant, was transferred to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, MCRD Parris Island, where he served as company first sergeant.
Since then, he has held numerous billets to include 1st Battalion sergeant major and Support Battalion sergeant major.
As a young private, Rivard aspired to reach the rank of first sergeant.
“First sergeant was my goal, but once I made it, I knew I wanted to become a sergeant major,” Rivard said.
In January 2003, Rivard was promoted to his current rank and assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, where he participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He reached this height in his career because of his faith in his junior Marines, according to Rivard.
“Each and every one of them are fantastic and I admire their accomplishments and their abilities,” Rivard said. “It’s never failed me yet to have Marines know that I feel that way about them.”
He does not want Marines thinking they should be in awe of his accomplishments because of his rank.
“I am here based on their accomplishments,” Rivard said.
According to Rivard, he made it based on the hard work and effort that was put out by the many Marines he’s worked with during his career. He also believes others should give credit where credit is due.
“I don’t believe any sergeant major would say they achieved their rank on their own merit and without the help of their Marines,” Rivard said. “If they do, then they are forgetting the superstars who inspired their rise to the top.”
Rivard certainly hasn’t forgotten about the superstars in his family. When he is not working with his Marines, he likes to work in his woodshop building toys and other items for his youngest family members—his grandchildren.
Many Marines may be indecisive about what they want to do with their lives, but whether they stay in or get out, they can make a difference if they follow some of the rules Rivard lived by.
“Don’t step on people to achieve your goals,” Rivard said. “Every Marine should reach their goals by doing the right thing. Be prepared to continually prove your leadership and skill at each new command.
“Finally, enjoy your time as a Marine because your time is limited. I came in the Marine Corps with two friends and they both got out after a few years, but when I visit home I find them sticking out their chests and telling the world, ‘I am a Marine.’
“We are Marines forever. Semper Fidelis.”