2009 Marine of the Year
Captain Daniel Rhodes
Rhodes and his wife, Elizabeth Jackson, are both Marine captains, although they have not been stationed together since they got married two and half years ago. After eight years in the Corps, four as an officer, Rhodes is leaving the service in July and plans to focus on his family and finally move in with his wife.
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Kaneohe Bay — Capt. Daniel Rhodes is no ordinary Marine, but then again, he does not come from ordinary people.
When he graduated from high school and went off to college at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, his parents packed their bags and his little sister for Lima, Peru, where they spent the past decade running an orphanage.
On his frequent visits to Peru, Rhodes watched his family interact with the children and learned how community service can change lives. He brought that to the Marine Corps Reserve when he enlisted in May 2001 as a combat engineer, and used it to form his “firm but compassionate” leadership style when he received his commission in 2005.
Rhodes, 28, deployed to Karmah, Iraq, from August 2008 until March, serving as the commander of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, as a first lieutenant. With just over two years as an officer under his belt, he was placed in charge of 200 Marines and an Iraqi militia of more than 500 men — including many former insurgents — all in some of the most volatile and corrupt areas of Iraq.
Running an infantry company in a combat zone is no small feat, and the job required Rhodes to wear many hats. One day he was a teacher, mentoring members of the Iraqi Security Force so he could bolster their confidence and ultimately turn his portions of southern Anbar province over to them. Another day he was a warrior, dealing with improvised explosive devices and insurgent activities.
But Rhodes never forgot the lessons he learned from his family in Peru. Using the emergency relief funds under his control, Rhodes and Weapons Company launched more than 30 public projects in and around Karmah. The results were staggering.
In just three months, the Marines helped refurbish 21 schools, four bridges, two roads, two water treatment plants, a community center, two women’s sewing factories and an adult literacy program. The projects helped more than 350 families and 1,000 students, and /“opened critical lines of commerce and transportation,/” according to his Iraq summary of action.
/“Lt. Rhodes is what being a service member in the United States is about,/” wrote Sgt. Jimmy Thies, intel chief for Weapons Company, in his write-up for Rhodes’ award nomination. /“He leads from the front and acknowledges his shortcomings. He listens to his men, be it about mission planning or training prior to deployments./”
Rhodes had limited free time during the deployment, but spent his nights and weekends putting together a book of ethics, now used throughout the battalion, said Lt. Col. Andy Milburn, former battalion commander at 1/3.
Rhodes said that fundamental training — such as the discussion of Corps values — has been lost after six years of war and a rapid turn-around in deployments.
The book, intended to help develop Marines into leaders, includes articles on historical and modern ethical situations, as well as some made-up scenarios used to fuel discussion.
It took Rhodes about a month to piece together the book, but he began incorporating combat ethics and leadership training into the company’s weekly routine almost immediately. Each week, Rhodes required his Marines to devote time to discussing ethical situations that they either read about or experienced. The training created an open flow of communication that drastically improved the climate in the company.
Returning to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where he was selected to command Charlie Company, 1/3, Rhodes continued his push for community outreach. He developed a relationship with Aloha United Way, a local chapter of the national nonprofit dedicated to improving community issues such as homelessness and early childhood development, and required his Marines to participate in at least one community service project a year, which he scheduled during the work week.
Marines also were encouraged to participate in scheduled weekend volunteer projects, although that service was not mandatory.
Judith Cantil, volunteer director at Aloha United Way, said Charlie Company was the most dedicated of all the military groups with which her organization has worked.
The Marines have helped refurbish 25 vacant public housing units, intended to shelter the homeless. They provided the muscle for a U.S. Postal Service food drive, off-loading and organizing 500,000 pounds of food in one night at a local food bank.
That kind of values development, Rhodes said, creates a strong foundation and gives Marines the tools they need to make the right decisions on the battlefield.
“The number one priority has to be leadership development and values development, because that’s the foundation by which all things follow,” Rhodes said. “If you can’t make the right decision here at home, how can you do so in the complex counterinsurgency environment where your life is in the gray area?”
He relinquished command of Charlie Company on June 23 and is serving as the subject matter expert for company level operations centers and working to refine standard operating procedures for the battalion as it preps for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
Although he has loved his time in the Corps, Rhodes said he is turning in his camouflage and heading back to school. After more than two years of marriage, he and his wife, Elizabeth Jackson — also a captain in the Corps, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. — have yet to live together.
They are moving to Washington, D.C., to pursue master’s degrees and focus on their families, but Rhodes is not giving up his passion for ethics. He plans to apply to Georgetown University, where he hopes to earn a degree in the field.
His ultimate goal is to work for an international aid organization in the developing world, not unlike his missionary parents in Peru.
“I absolutely love the Marine Corps, and hopefully that is self-evident. But at some point you have to be able to examine your life and look at the potential outcomes. I see myself needing to focus right now and go and be with my wife,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of unique opportunities, and it’s been really great for me, but I’d like to see how it goes in school.”