2007 Marine of the Year
Major Theodore Wong
Began his military career as an enlisted Marine in 1985; mentors local youth through Devil Pups and Young Marines programs.
SAN BRUNO, Calif. - The Iraqi city of Khalidiya hadn't been patrolled for 15 months when Reserve Maj. Theodore Wong arrived Sept. 5, 2005, as the executive officer of an Iraqi army company.
His vehicle traveled up and down the city's main road as then-Staff Sgt. Jay Hunter patrolled on foot with the Iraqi forces.
Then the enemy attacked - a roadside bomb hit the foot patrol and small-arms fire erupted from three positions.
"It was a typical death blossom," Wong said.
Wong heard the explosion and rushed toward the sound of the guns, drawing enemy fire by exposing himself long enough for Hunter and the Iraqi soldiers to set up a perimeter and evacuate the wounded.
Though the encounter was Wong's first experience with receiving and returning enemy fire, he's no stranger to deployments.
Wong has spent 42 of the last 60 months on active duty and estimates he's been mobilized for 10 of his 22 years in the Reserve.
Wong, 42, is an air command-and-control officer by training, an infantryman by billet and practice, and a persistent force for good in his community.
His life is filled with business cards, address books and scraps of paper with names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for hundreds of contacts in the San Francisco Bay area, where he commands Headquarters Company, 23rd Marine Regiment.
To hear his fellow leathernecks tell it, Wong, who began his service in 1985 as an enlisted Marine, seems to be everywhere in his community at once.
He mentors youths in the local Devil Pups and Young Marines programs; leads fourth- and fifth-grade students at Junipero Serra Elementary School in exercises; maintains a letter-writing campaign for deployed troops; organizes volunteers to greet troops upon their return from war; visits those recovering from traumatic brain injuries at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.; speaks to local veterans organizations; and promotes the Corps enough to have 15 enlistments to his credit.
Wong can keep up with his extensive community involvement because of the flexible hours offered by his employer, semiconductor company Xandex Inc., of Petaluma, Calif., where he works in marketing.
"It's part of being a reservist. You're supposed to volunteer in your community," Wong said. "It's karma. It feels good to do good things, and you can do good things unconditionally."
In his 10 months as 23rd Marines' regimental commander, Col. Richard McMonagle has seen Wong's passion for community involvement, placing it on equal footing with the passion Wong exhibits toward his company command.
"Rarely is there an event I go to that he's not at on his own time," McMonagle said. "This is certainly a liberal town, and it's important in this kind of area that Marines are out and visible. He's the citizen Marine we want in the reserves, and he represents the Corps well."
At the regiment's headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., Wong's command philosophy is thumbtacked to a bulletin board in the hallway.
"Public service," he wrote, is a way of life for a Reserve Marine. "As citizen soldiers, we need to contribute to our communities by telling the Marine Corps story, supporting recruiting goals and promoting goodwill by setting the example."
McMonagle said reservists in his command have to "balance a number of things active-duty Marines don't," such as their civilian careers.
For the regiment's Marines, Wong's extensive community involvement isn't just a way to promote the Corps in the San Francisco area, it's a way to keep the unit ready for battle by limiting their civilian worries.
"You need a job, a place to stay? He's our clearinghouse,"1st Sgt. Lawrence Wei said. "He knows everybody and helps out his Marines at all times."
Maj. Richard Doherty, the regiment's assistant operations officer, agreed.
"That's why we call him the mayor," he said.