Caldwell recognized for leadership, personality
CAMP HANSEN, Japan -- Superheroes are known for their extraordinary powers. While many have pondered which fictional superpower they would most like to possess, few stop to consider what is real when it comes to superheroes — their character.
While Sgt. Maj. Robert L. Caldwell is not a superhero, many who have come into contact with him throughout their career consider him one.
Caldwell, who most recently served as the sergeant major of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group and Camp Hansen, marched across the parade deck March 29 during his retirement ceremony; a ceremony recognizing 30 years of honorable and faithful service to the Marine Corps and nation.
“I have known Caldwell a little over three years, and only knew him by his magnanimous reputation before arriving to the unit,” said Col. Stephen B. Lewallen, the commanding officer of III MHG and Camp Hansen commander. “When they made him, they really broke the mold, creating the most dynamic gentleman I have ever worked with in the Marine Corps.”
Caldwell’s journey as a Marine began at the age of 17, following graduation from Spartanburg High School in Spartanburg, S.C. In August 1983, following a year in the delayed entry program, he departed for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, where he immediately began to excel.
“My aspirations started from the very beginning when I was selected as guide for the platoon,” said Caldwell.
His selection as platoon guide during recruit training fueled an already burning desire to lead Marines. Consequently, Caldwell was meritoriously promoted to private first class upon graduation from recruit training.
Accelerated advancement was something Caldwell became accustomed to earning three meritorious promotions within the first 10 years of his storied career.
A few years later, Caldwell was presented with an opportunity to return to Parris Island and lead Marines, this time as a drill instructor.
“During my time at the recruit depot, I processed about 4,000 recruits and graduated about 500 Marines,” said Caldwell.
But it was more than a matter of numbers for Caldwell, who was named drill instructor of the year in 1993; it was about impacting and shaping young Marines and helping them realize their potential.
“The greatest experience was being able to mold recruits into Marines ready to demonstrate their potential,” said Caldwell.
Molding and developing Marines is something Caldwell took personally. Ultimately, it led and motivated him to avoid complacency as his career progressed.
Caldwell’s leadership style and gregarious personality allowed Marines to gravitate toward him, according to Lewallen.
“The Marines know he is concerned about their welfare and that he is genuinely pushing ahead to serve their interests as a senior enlisted advisor and leader,” said Lewallen. “On any given day, he has 3,300 Marines with the MEB and MHG and over 7,000 Marines and civilians with the camp. There are not many Marines that can execute the job like Caldwell.”
It was Caldwell’s infectious personality and leadership style that earned him the respect of the Marines under his charge, according to Lewallen, who witnessed this bond firsthand prior to a concert on Camp Hansen last winter.
“Prior to the Trace Adkins concert, I was going to introduce Adkins to the Marines, but as soon as the Marines got a glimpse of Caldwell, the whole crowd began chanting Caldwell’s catchphrase, ‘Shing-ding-a-ling,’” said Lewallen. “So he went out and got the crowd worked up for Adkins.”
Shing-ding-a-ling is a phrase Caldwell uses to describe the abundant amount of motivation he feels about being a Marine and serving with other Marines.
“As my retirement approaches, I want to make sure that all the Marines keep a high level of MAD — motivation, attitude and discipline,” said Caldwell. “Always be that individual that all Marines want to emulate and strive to be like one day.”