Two U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Corps Forces, South, a component of the United States Southern Command, recently received the Colombian Marine Corps’ highest award that can be bestowed upon foreign nationals during a ceremony at the Batallón de Seguridad de Infantería de Marina (BASEGIM), the Colombian Marine Corps’ (COLMAR) Security Battalion Headquarters Base there.
Colombian Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Alvaro Echandía approved the Distinguished Service Medal for Sergeant Major William F. Fitzgerald III and Master Gunnery Sergeant Ramon Reyes. The medal was presented by Vice Admiral Ricardo Galves Cobo, Second Commander of the Colombian Navy, and Brigadier General Luis Gomez Vasquez, COLMAR’s Commandant.
“This award is very well deserved for the outstanding support that these Marines have dedicated to the development of the Colombian Marine Corps’ NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] Corps,” said Gomez.
The Distinguished Service Medal is the oldest and the only medal in the COLMAR. “It is given to military members, civilians and foreigners that have gone above and beyond in direct support of the development of the Colombian Marine Corps,” said Reyes, a native of Orlando, Florida, who first started working with the COLMAR during a UNITAS deployment in 2002.
Each year, the awards ceremony coincides with a larger celebration, for the birthday of Colombia’s National Navy. The Colombian Navy is comprised of Colombia’s naval forces, its Marines corps, and its Coast Guard.
“Sgt. Maj. Fitzgerald and I worked with the recently retired Sgt. Maj. of the Colombian Marine Corps, Antonio Perez Durán, in developing their sergeants major and NCO Enlisted Professional Military Education,” Reyes explained. “We also co-hosted the first Senior Enlisted Marine Leaders of the Americas conference (SEMLAC) in Bogotá in 2011 with the support of their Sergeant Major and the Commandant of the Colombian Marine Corps.”
Last year’s SEMLAC, the first of its kind, was co-hosted between the U.S. and Colombian Marine Corps and is planned to be a bi-annual event conducted at various locations throughout Latin America. The purpose of the inaugural SEMLAC was to provide senior enlisted leaders with a forum to discuss Theater Security Cooperation and training as it relates to the challenges and threats which their forces are combating.
Born in Big Rapids, Michigan, Sgt. Maj. Fitzgerald, first joined U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South two years ago and has been working with Sgt. Maj. Perez and Master Gunnery Sgt. Reyes to help the COLMAR, the second largest Marine Corps in the world with 27,000 Marines in their ranks, to develop programs to improve the professionalism of their NCO and SNCO Corps.
“Sgt. Maj. Fitzgerald and Master Gunnery Sgt. Reyes have demonstrated tremendous dedication by helping the COLMAR develop its NCO and Sergeants Corps, and build strong relationships as partners working together with common goals of theater security,” said Major General John M. Croley, Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South. “They are helping to build the bedrock of the command, steady in the times of uncertainty and doubt, calm under fire and always ready to go into the attack; all traits that the commander relies on for sage advice from his NCO and Sergeants Major Corps.”