Fallujah, IRAQ -- In the civilian world, youre average 19-22 year-old is not normally laden with great responsibilities; but in the Marine Corps, young Marines are relied upon everyday to fill key leadership roles.
Many of the veteran squad leaders of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines Regiment, are young Marines under the age of 22.
Mostly corporals, these Marines are responsible for the accomplishment of their mission as well as the lives and well being of 12 or more Marines while conducting combat operations.
Our job is to guide and direct our Marines, make tactical decisions for the squad and enforce the rules, said Cpl. Marcus J. Ward, a 20-year-old squad leader with Company K.
Squad leaders for the battalion ensure their Marines receive serviceable gear, good living conditions, physical conditioning, proper training and supervision, according to Ward, a native of Butler, Pa.
Of their many responsibilities though, a squad leaders greatest task comes under a hail of gunfire.
During combat, squad leaders are responsible for the very lives of their Marines, directing them through every step of the battle.
Their lives depend on your decisions and how well you handle yourself under pressure, Ward explained.
The Marines chosen for this burden of leadership are well prepared for the challenges they face.
During their time as rifleman, Marines are observed for a special blend of infantry skills, experience, toughness, intelligence, selflessness and communication skills, according to Gunnery Sgt. Jean-Paul Courville, the 32-year-old company gunnery sergeant for Company K.
Time is the teacher, said Courville, a native of Denham Springs, La. Sometimes theyre baptized by fire, but most have time to build a foundation.
Most of the battalions squad leaders are on their third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, making their responsibilities easier to shoulder.
The more youre in the position, the easier it becomes, said Cpl. Miles J. Hill, 21-year-old squad leader with Company I.
The squad leaders of the battalion are proud to be in their positions as leaders and advisors, and see their responsibility as greater than that of the typical non-commissioned officer.
I think it says a lot to be able to bear the burden of others lives, said Hill, a native of Pauls Valley, Okla.