Veteran spotlight: Sgt Major Anthony D. Vega

As part of my continuing efforts to honor veterans, I recently interviewed Sergeant Major Anthony D. Vega about his 22 years of service in the United States Marine Corps.

Sgt Major Anthony D. Vega

Besides discussing all his travel and time in the Corps, as well as the ultra races he’s competed in, Vega also shared some incredible leadership lessons. (There’s even a bit in it about his Mother, who’s one incredible lady herself, serving in multiple careers in law enforcement while raising her family as a single Mom. Talk about inspiring?!) He’s also met a President in his duties as a Marine (see pic below). Here’s the interview:

Where were you born? (And/or what was your hometown?)

I was born in El Paso, TX.

When did you serve and where? Also rank attained.

Detachment Commander, Madrid, Spain, with former President Obama.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps on 18 January, 1999.  After graduation I attended Marine Combat Training (MCT) and was assigned the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of 6531, Aviation Ordnance Technician.  I initially served with HMT-303 Training Squadron aboard Camp Pendleton, California where during my tenure I held the key billets of Desk Sergeant, Collateral Duty Inspector (CDI), and Quality Assurance/Safety Observer (QASO). 

I was promoted to Sergeant in January of 2003 and transferred to the HMLA-269 Gunrunners aboard Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, North Carolina.  In February of 2005,  I deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).  I deployed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in 2006 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Sea Angel in Bangladesh. 

As First Sgt with 2d Battalion, 6th Marines.

In 2007, I deployed with the 26th MEU(SOC), where we served in support of various anti-piracy operations in Africa.  In 2007, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant, completed my tour with HMLA-269 as the Staff Noncommissioned Officer-In-Charge (SNCOIC), and was selected to return to Camp Pendleton, California as an MOS Instructor for the AH-1W Super Cobra/UH-1N Huey Aviation Ordnance field.

As an MOS Instructor through 2011, I successfully achieved the title of Master Training Specialist (MTS), aiding in the transfer to the AH-1Z and UH-1Y programs, earned my Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) Instructor tab with black belt, and was promoted to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant with the corresponding MOS of 6591 (Ordnance Chief).  Additionally during this time, I graduated from Park University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Magna Cum Laude. 

In 2011, I reported to HMLA-469 Vengeance aboard Camp Pendleton to serve as the Ordnance Chief and deployed to Afghanistan in support of OEF.  In 2014, I transferred to Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook, California and served as the Ordnance Chief and the Senior Enlisted Advisor for the Ordnance Detachment.  During my tour in 2014, I was screened and selected for the unaccompanied billet of Ordnance Chief with Marine Forces Korea (MARFORK) and successfully completed a one-year tour. 

In September of 2015, I executed orders to Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG) and successfully completed the Detachment Commander Course 1-16 in December 2015 upon which I was assigned to U.S. Embassy Madrid, Spain, Region 5 to serve a Detachment Commander.  During my tenure, I was awarded the Department of State Meritorious Honor Award and my 3rd Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. 

Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 VENGEANCE

Upon being selected for First Sergeant in December of 2016, I was selected and awarded to serve in the position of Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL) to Region 6, Eastern and Southern Africa, MCESG, in Johannesburg, South Africa, overseeing 23 Marine Security Guard Detachments across 25 different countries.  During my tenure, I attended the Navy Senior Enlisted Academy aboard Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, successfully earning honor graduate in a joint environment.  Upon conclusion of my tour with MCESG, I was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

After completing Senior Enlisted Professional Military Education (SEPME) and the Resilience-Building Leadership Program Trainer course, I checked into my new command in June of 2020 with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where I served as the Weapons Company First Sergeant.  I was selected for Sergeant Major in December of 2020 and was awarded orders to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, where I currently serve as the Command Senior Enlisted Leader.

Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269

Who was your childhood hero?

My hero has always been my Mother.  As a single parent, she raised my two younger siblings and I while maintaining a very high demanding career as an El Paso, TX Sherriff.  She retired from the Sheriff’s Department after 20 years of dedicated law enforcement work, teaching us the value of hard work and loyalty with a relentless drive to never quit.  Her passion as a Sherriff’s Officer was astonishing, particularly during her many years as a detective and undercover narcotics officer. 

She is a shining mentor and example to us, as well as the many others she impacted throughout her career.  She continues to be my hero, as she is still a dedicated law enforcement officer doing investigative work for the FBI, after concluding a second retirement as a lieutenant for the fugitive task force under the Texas Attorney General’s Office.   

What made you want to join up?

I do not come from a military background, but the thought of serving my country and being able to travel the world really enticed me.  I also knew I wanted to serve as a law enforcement officer one day, so the Marine Corps seemed like a right step in that direction.  I enlisted in 1999 and never looked back. 

Tell us some of the big lessons you learned from serving.

I hope to publish something in the future regarding the many lessons I have learned as a Marine and Leader of Marines.  I am a big fan of reflection and notetaking, and as a matter of fact I have been doing it since I was a Staff Sergeant.  In creating leadership memoirs at every rank, and now for every billet, I am able to reflect back on what I may have been thinking or how I may have dealt with a certain situation.  Out of the many lessons I could share from my 22 years in the Corps, I will pull out a few leadership anecdotes that have always been supportive to me in my continued development:

— “Ductus Exemplo,” which is Latin for “lead by example.”  Nothing is as contagious as example.  Marines will never do good or evil without bringing along others for the ride.  Moreover, leadership is visible; Marines do what Marines see.  And much like my children at home, my daily actions, particularly how I treat Mom, has an immense impact on them. 

— Critique vs. Criticism.  I like to think that Critique is the art of Criticism.  Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – there is a true mastery in being able to properly critique as a leader, and not simply criticize.  Many leaders, particularly young ones, learn this lesson too late in life and do a lot of irreversible damage to our organization.  We live in a world of regressive cycles, and I am here to break them.    

— The importance of accountability, organizational culture, and being a good person. 

— Mental Maps.  Only through adversity, and overcoming adversity (all things mental, physical and emotional), have I developed the mental maps I can often draw upon to show me the way forward and help me in any situation I may face.  This is also the reason I like to read; the countless years of experience one can learn from by simply reading a book!  

What was your most harrowing experience, that you’re willing to share? (This can be a training event, as I think most civilians aren’t aware of how dangerous even peacetime service can be.)

I am going to go a different way with this one.  Without a doubt, the most harrowing experience I have had was the 2015 Spartan Ultra in Lake Tahoe, NV.  I am a big fan and advocate of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR), the challenging ones — not the weekend warrior mud runs.  I have been doing OCR since its inception in 2008. 

Vega competing in the Spartan Ultra.

The Spartan Ultra, the race that many consider the holy grail in OCR, was not on my mind.  The 50K race with over 75 obstacles against mountainous terrain was not on my to do list at the time.  Up until 2015, I was competing in the lower distance races, always looking for the ever-dubious podium finish. 

At the time, I had my eyes set on the Spartan Beast in Temecula, CA upon my return from deployment.  Although I was well trained and prepared for that race, I was not acclimated to the weather and the heat became a unrelenting factor that caused me to have a terrible run.  The heat was so bad, Spartan was literally closing the race behind my group of racers!  They ultimately let us finish the 20K race, but I was left with a wave a disappointment and raw emotion, as I had trained so hard for that competition.  That battle later became famously known at the “Hellmecula Beast.” 

Determined for redemption, I registered for the Spartan Ultra 50K that was taking place the following weekend in Lake Tahoe, NV.  It was a complete bypass of “weight classes” for me, as I had never gone that distance on an OCR before, much less in such elevation.  I felt good however and proceeded on. 

The Spartan Ultra was a harrowing experience from the start of the race, with the announcer telling us that over half of us would not finish the race.  And he was right- only about 250 of 1500 actually finished that race.  It was the first time Spartan had held an Ultra in that type of elevation and environment.   Many were dropped due to hypothermia and injuries, others for simply quitting or not reaching their time hacks. 

I wanted to “tap” at the halfway point (where you are authorized to access pre-staged gear you set up the night before in a transition area).  I arrived there at the half way marker at about 6 hours, and was freezing after coming back down one of the highest peaks in the area at 9,000 feet.  As I sat there and contemplated my life decisions up to that point, I reached into my bag and found some pink sticky notes my family had left for me that I was unaware of. 

The notes were filled with words of love and confidence, telling me to not quit and that they believed in me.  These notes were not only from my beautiful wife, but from my two daughters.  In that instance, and as I looked around at others in the transition area packing their gear away to quit and go home, I asked myself, “How can I go home and face my daughters to tell them that Daddy quit?” 

I finished my meal, changed my socks and shoes, replenished my racing supplementation and told myself, “Just go.”  I did it in 13 hours, and I could not have done it without those little notes my family left for me.  I carried them with me for the second half of the race.  After 32 miles, over 70 obstacles, 200 burpees, 9,000 feet of elevation, and a mild case of hypothermia, I finished that race — it was the hardest thing I had ever done, and probably will ever do.    

What do you wish those who have never served better understood?

I would wish for those who have never served to understand the significance of being inside a positive organizational culture, with an ethos that is enriched with strong values of honor, courage, and commitment.  I would wish for those who have never served to understand that as humans it is healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally to be a part of something greater than an individual self.  And lastly, I would wish for those who have never served to understand, particularly in the Marine Corps, that we are sending better products back into society much better then they came. 

Creating better products to society, I believe, has always been one of the primary goals of the United States Marine Corps.  We are not only breeding the very best warriors in the world, but also the very best people. 

Are there any service members that you know, or served with, that you’d like to honor their sacrifice by naming?

On the night of 22 February 2012, my Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 (HMLA-469) suffered a tragic loss.  Vengeance 97, crewed by Major Nathan AndersonCaptain Michael QuinSergeant Justin EverettLance Corporals Corey Little and Nickoulas Elliott and Vengeance 98, crewed by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Budrejko, our Executive Officer, and Captain Benjamin Cerniglia, a mustang and friend, experienced a midair collision during a training mission near Yuma, Arizona resulting in the death of all seven Vengeance Marines.  The Vengeance family felt a tremendous loss that night, and I would like to honor them and their beloved families as I close out this interview; Vengeance 97/98 WWNF.  

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I wanted to thank Sgt Major Anthony D. Vega for sharing just a small slice of his very long service to our great country. As I’ve said before, I really enjoy spotlighting the great sacrifice that so many have made for this country.

And in that line of thinking, I need your help. If you know a veteran you’d like to have honored, then please email me. Veterans seem to NEVER nominate themselves. lol. So, if you have a father, mother, brother, sister, friend, family member, etc, please reach out to me and tell me about them.

You can reach me at stan@stanrmitchell.com.

Semper Fidelis,

Stan R. Mitchell

P.S. Comments are open below. I love hearing from everyone, but if you attack someone, say something stupid, etc, I will delete your comment with a quickness. Sorry. My bar. My rules.

P.P.S. Your daily reminder… Before you comment anywhere on social media today, please remember: The vast majority of Americans are decent, loving, great people. Please pause and don’t name-call the other side with such anger and venom. They are mothers and fathers and folks not much different than you. Let’s re-unite this country with one kind conversation at a time.

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About me: My name is Stan R. Mitchell and I write fast-paced novels. No, I mean blistering fast. With great suspense & twists. To date, I’ve written ten books. You can find them here: amazon.com.  #USMC #SemperFidelis

Writers are crazy, and I’m crazier than most.

Veteran spotlight: Chief Danny Prichard

As part of my continuing efforts to honor veterans, here’s the latest entry. This week, I interview retired Chief Master Sergeant Danny Prichard, who served 31 years in the Air Force, and at the time of his retirement, he had more time-in-grade than any Chief in the U.S. Air Force. (Fourteen years as a Chief.)

At one point, he even served as Command Chief Master Sergeant for the entire Pacific Theater. Here’s the interview:

Where were you born?

I was born in Kings Lynn, England. My dad was in the Air Force, married an English girl (my mom). I was born in my mom’s home town. We moved every 2 or 3 years, so no hometown to speak of.

Chief Danny Prichard in 1994 as the President of the Chief’s Group at Osan Air Base, Korea.

When did you serve and where? Also rank attained.

I served all over the world. Assignments in Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi; Shimaya, Alaska, San Vito Air Station, Italy; 3 assignments in Misawa Air Base, Japan; 2 assignments Clark Air Base, Philippines; 2 assignments Osan Air Base, Korea; Kelly Air Force Base, Texas; Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; and Fort Gordon, Georgia.

In addition to where I was stationed from 1973-2004, I had multiple deployments to deployments. I was the only person able to use prototypes of various deployable direction finding systems, so I got to go to a lot of “hot spots” to help our special operators find the bad guys. I was not in special ops and have huge respect for those troops in all services. I just helped them out when I could.

I retired as a Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) after 31 years of service. At the time of my retirement, I had more time-in-grade than any Chief in the U.S. Air Force. I wore the Chief stripes for over 14 years.

Chief Danny Prichard getting a medal from Colonel Dan Kohn for his service during Desert Storm.

Who was your childhood hero?

My childhood heroes were all sports stars. Jim Brown in football, Frank Robinson in baseball, Oscar Robinson in basketball. Aside from them I’d have to say my Dad.

What made you want to join up?

I joined in 1973 because I couldn’t find a decent job (I was roofing houses at the time and making $1.60 an hour breaking my back). I figured I’d join for 4 years, save some money, and get out. My goal was to buy a van and drive around the country. Almost 31 years later I had different goals. I still haven’t purchased that van.

Tell us some of the big lessons you learned from serving.

Some of the big lessons I learned from serving. Actually, most of the important lessons in my adult life were learned because I served. Here are a few. Good friends and family are more important than anything else in life. If you’re going to allow someone to cover your back, you better trust them. Never make a deal with yourself where losing is acceptable. You can love people you may not agree with. My family kept me grounded … without them I may have gotten reckless enough to get myself killed.

What was your most harrowing experience, that you’re willing to share?

I’d have to say two of my most harrowing experiences.

1) During Desert Storm we were running to get behind the sandbags when the scud missile alert sounded. As I’m sure you know that’s when we were under attack from scuds.

Chief Prichard and his son Paul before his first deployment to Iraq.

Those things were very unpredictable and usually they didn’t hit what they were aiming at. But I just knew one was going to land on my head. As we were heading to the area that was sandbagged, I stepped in a hole (wearing all my gear) and felt something snap in my back. I could barely walk but I managed to get to the “safe” area.

I actually finished my deployment in serious pain but I finished. I found out upon returning to Kelly AFB in Texas that I had broken my back. Basically cracked a disc. It has never fully healed and surgery isn’t an option.

2) The other harrowing experience was in the Philippines. Filipino special forces and police were looking for a “sparrow” (basically an informer) for the New People’s Army. They knew this guy had given the NPA information that led to the slaughter of a bunch of Filipino cops. I was driving to work, came around a corner, and as luck (bad luck) would have it, I came across the Filipino cops, who had this guy cornered in an alley.

Just as I came around that corner I witnessed a Filipino cop execute the bad guy with a shotgun. Almost cut him in half. Obviously he wasn’t supposed to do that. Before I could react, he turned and pointed the shotgun at me.

I’m in my car but he’s just a few feet away and he had me cold. I seriously thought he was going to kill me because of what I’d witnessed. We stared at each other for a few moments and then more people showed up and I backed up, turned around, and was able to get away.

All I can say is they have different ways of dealing with those type of issues in places like the Philippines. Anyway, two different but harrowing experiences.

What do you wish those who have never served better understood?

I’m not sure I wish those who didn’t serve understood anything more than they do. My son served in Iraq/Afghanistan and witnessed his best friend who was manning the 50 cal in a Humvee turned to red mist by a sniper. He also experienced killing other people.

I’m so very proud of his service, but I’d give anything for him to not have experienced that. We do it so others don’t have to. Maybe more than anything, I wish civilians understood the price my family paid when I was gone so often for assignments or deployments.

Are there any service members that you know, or served with, that you’d like to honor their sacrifice by naming?

I’d like to honor Tech Sergeant Marty Flynn who died when the RC-135 he was in crashed killing the whole crew. I’d like to honor Staff Sergeant Mike “Cowboy” Hagar who was murdered in the Philippines.

I’d like to honor Command Sergeant Major Jerry Lee Wilson, who was killed in action in Mosul, Iraq. There are more, but those three men were close friends. I miss them every day.

And I’d like to honor my dad, Senior Master Sergeant Maynard Prichard, who died of complications due to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Share with us a story of a leader who inspired you while you served.

Plenty of people inspired me while I served. But the person who stands out was Chief Master Sergeant Paul Weyandt. He received two distinguished flying crosses for heroism by pulling people out of burning aircraft on two separate occasions.

He was the best person I ever met in the military. He survived three tours in Vietnam and flew countless missions. Then he went home on leave and was killed in a car wreck. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. I think about him every day.

What do you wish for the country?

I guess I wish the country could start to pull together like we did after 9/11. I’m not optimistic.

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I wanted to thank Chief Danny Prichard for sharing just a small slice of his very long service to our great country. As I’ve said before, I really enjoy spotlighting the great sacrifice that so many have made for this country.

And in that line of thinking, I need your help. If you know a veteran you’d like to have honored, then please email me. Veterans seem to NEVER nominate themselves. lol. So, if you have a father, mother, brother, sister, friend, family member, etc, please reach out to me.

You can reach me at stan@stanrmitchell.com.

Semper Fidelis,

Stan R. Mitchell

P.S. Comments are open below. Love hearing from everyone, but if you say something stupid, attack someone, etc, I will delete your comment with a quickness. Sorry. My bar. My rules.

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About me: My name is Stan R. Mitchell and I write fast-paced novels. No, I mean blistering fast. With great suspense & twists. To date, I’ve written ten books. You can find them here: amazon.com.  #USMC #SemperFidelis

Writers are crazy, and I’m crazier than most.

Your weekly roundup of motivation and news, 4/30/21

I haven’t shared a blogpost in a while, so I thought I’d share a summary of motivation and (mostly) military news for you all.

I’ve been posting much of these on Twitter, but since most of you probably don’t live on Twitter, these will probably be new to the vast majority of you all. (You can click on any link and go to the website; not Twitter. So, you don’t need to have Twitter to view the articles linked to below.

Please feel free to share this with your friends or on Facebook.

“People who wonder if the glass is half empty or full miss the point. The glass is refillable.” – Unknown

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” — Jim Rohn

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all.” – Thomas J. Watson

“Don’t expect immediate success. Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” — Napoleon Hill

Continue reading “Your weekly roundup of motivation and news, 4/30/21”