Sgt. Maj. Carlos A. Ruiz, the incoming Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, learned a valuable lesson about the challenges of leadership as a young corporal.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ruiz recalled how he was picked to be his platoon’s guidon bearer, a position at the front of the platoon holding its flag during group runs.

“One day, this master sergeant was calling cadence and called me out to give cadence to the platoon,” Ruiz said. “I was petrified because I knew nothing of cadence. I was too busy hiding behind the guidon and not getting better. I didn’t want to come out; he forced me out; I came out, and there was silence – and he let me go silent. So, the platoon went silent without cadence until I managed to get the courage to say ‘left, right, left; left, right, left,’ and call something. That was an awakening for me to know that because you have this rank on your collar that puts responsibility on you, you have the responsibility to get better every day – and don’t hide.”

On Aug. 10, Ruiz will officially become the Marine Corps’ senior enlisted leader. He enlisted in the Corps in 1993 and started out as a warehouse clerk. He went on to become a recruiter in Los Angeles and then a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, serving as a drill instructor, drill master and chief instructor for Drill Instructor School.

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When asked by Task & Purpose which actor has given the greatest portrayal of a drill sergeant in a movie or television show, Ruiz said it’s not a close race: Marine veteran R. Lee Ermey’s performance Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket wins easily.

“He was great for recruiting and retention,” Ruiz said.

Marine Sgt. Maj. Carlos A. Ruiz
Marine Sgt. Maj. Carlos A. Ruiz will become the 20th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps on Aug. 10, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

As Ruiz prepares to become the Marine Corps’ senior enlisted leader, he said his top priority is to listen to the force. He also said that he is not coming into the job with the mentality that something needs to be fixed.

“We’ve been doing pretty well for a long time,” Ruiz said. “It’s not about what I’m going to change. It’s what’s not going to change, and that’s really about knowing your job, respecting the standard, and striving every day to have a disciplined day – that’s the way I think of it in my brain – to be a little better than you were yesterday.”

When asked if he expects any changes to the Marine Corps’ tattoo, uniform, or physical training policies during his tenure as Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Ruiz said that such issues are always under review.

Ruiz said he thinks it’s a good thing that the Corps is looking at requiring Marines to spend more time training to swim and how to better measure body composition.

One issue about which he was noncommittal: Whether Marines should be allowed to grow beards.

“I think I’ll stay away from that one for now,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz is a combat veteran who has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. His military awards include the Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device and the Combat Action Ribbon with one gold star.

He is about to step into the job as Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps at a time when the Marines are in the middle of a massive transformation meant to prepare for a war with China, while at the same time the Corps does not have a confirmed commandant because Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is blocking the promotions of senior military leaders over a Defense Department policy that covers the travel expenses of service members who need to go out of state for abortion care.

“I have a front row seat to what’s happening,” Ruiz said, “And what’s happening is we continue to march. We continue to move forward.”

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