MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, ARIZ. --
As Marines, we are all instructed in our core values of honor, courage and commitment. Every day serves as edification in proper embodiment of these values; each Marine is a subject matter expert in the core values. Even so, there are a special few among us who stand above the rest as an exemplar of what it means to wear the title - Marine.
Sgt. Maj. Karl Villalino is one such Marine.
At the core of my being is family and being a Marine and a good citizen, said Villalino.
Villalino is currently serving as the Sgt. Maj. of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. He has been an integral part of the Corps for 27 years and will continue that dedication when he soon deploys to Afghanistan.
“When I watch the news and see U.S. service members deployed, I want to be a part of that, and I will have that opportunity very shortly,” said Villalino. “We don't want to be engaged in combat in different parts of the world, but when we have to I want to make a difference in that environment.”
Villalino was born in the Philippines, but as a child moved to Long Beach, Calif., where he grew up. Upon graduating high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, leaving for recruit training at the age of 17 in June, 1986.
“I saw how Marines carried themselves, and I knew a little of their history,” said Villalino. “To me it was a no brainer. You pick what you think is best if you are able to do so. I know I picked the right service.”
After attending recruit training in San Diego, Villalino became an aviation structural mechanic on the KC-130 Hercules. He reported to the fleet at Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 252 out of MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. in March, 1987, where, one year later, he was meritoriously promoted to corporal.
Almost three years later he transferred to VMGR-352, based in El Toro, Calif., which he deployed with in August, 1990 in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Villalino then served as a recruiter near his hometown for three years, during which he was meritoriously promoted to gunnery sergeant. After this, he returned to VMGR-352 and deployed to Mombasa, Kenya for Operation Noble Response in 1996 and to Incirlik, Turkey for Operation Northern Watch in 1998.
“The best detachment I have ever had was to Mombasa, Kenya for two reasons,” stated Villalino. “We were doing a humanitarian mission delivering bags of beans and rice to people who had been devastated by a flood, so that felt good. Two, I had the opportunity to visit a place in the world I had never been to and probably won’t ever again. I was able to go on a safari while I was there, and I was exposed to a different culture. It was hot, but it was a great opportunity.”
In August, 2000, Villalino transferred to 1st Bn., 3rd Marines in Hawaii as the Company C first sergeant. Then, in 2002, he deployed to the Philippines in support of Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines.
“I became a first sergeant because I wanted to do something different,” said Villalino. “I liked aircraft maintenance, but I knew I also wanted the opportunity to serve with a combat arms unit.”
After a year acting as first sergeant for 3rd Radio Bn., Company A, he was promoted to sergeant major and took charge of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463. In February, 2006, he and his unit deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07.
Before assuming his post at MCAS Yuma, he also served as sergeant major of Marine Aircraft Group 12 in Iwakuni, Japan from 2008 to 2010. Even after all these years of dedication to the Corps, Villalino still takes pleasure in his work and in looking out for his fellow Marines.
“I enjoy what I’m doing,” explained Villalino. “I enjoy affecting Marines. I don’t like just being a garrison Marine; I like to deploy and affect what is going on out there. I like being part of something that affects history. Hopefully, I am able to make a difference and keep Marines, sailors and other service members safe.”
Through all he has done and years in a sergeant’s major position, Villalino’s favorite aspect of the Corps is still his interaction with the Marines around him.
“I have met some really great friends and leaders,” said Villalino. “It’s heartwarming to see we have outstanding people in our club. Though, my least favorite is dealing with disciplinary matters and things that affect people’s personal lives. But someone has to set people straight and keep the good order and discipline in the Corps.”
When it comes to his leadership, Villalino utilizes the wealth of experience provided by decades of going above and beyond the call of duty.
“I have learned to listen first before judging,” explained Villalino. “I am fair, but when the boss has made his call, firm. My leadership style is somewhere in the middle; you can't have everything democratic, but when you have the chance to give people you're leading an option, you do. Even so, some things are not an option, and the Marine Corps does things a certain way because of tradition.”
“(Villalino) is outgoing, dedicated, motivated and concerned for his junior Marines,” added Lt. Col. Charles Carroll, the executive officer of MCAS Yuma. “His focus is on helping the Marines, or 'Heroes' as sergeant major often calls them, and the air station.”
Villalino's leadership relies not only on his selfless dedication to duty, but is also fueled by his extroverted personality.
“I like talking to Marines; I don't like being removed from them,” said Villalino.
“He's never down; he's always upbeat and very helpful to anyone who comes in,” added Vicky Fry, the secretary to the MCAS Yuma command suite. “He never has a bad thing to say about anyone. He's always so cheerful – always singing diddies around the office. He's great. We're going to miss him.”
While Villalino holds true to the Corps every day, he also keeps the same devotion to his family – a wife of 24 years, two children in their 20s and a two-year-old grandson whom he spends most of his free-time with.
One day years from now, Villalino plans on settling down in one spot which he can use as a base to travel the world and experience new places and peoples. He also plans on continuing his collegiate education in business.
However, this is far into the distant beyond, for the Corps still is and will continue to be fortunate enough to count Sgt. Maj. Villalino among her ranks into the foreseeable future.