UAP recently sat down with Gunnery Sergeant Joshua Negron, an active Marine Raider and veteran of the Marine Reconnaissance community.
Negron enlisted in the Marine Corps on December 4, 2000, and his personal decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, Joint Service Commendation Medal, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and three Combat Action Ribbons.
Here is the exclusive interview.
What led you to join the Marine Corps and then later Recon and MARSOC?
Well, I have family members that have prior military service, but it all started with my grandfather who served and fought in WWII. Like most during that time he answered the call and joined the US Army who then deployed him to Africa. After the German forces were defeated, the Allied forces advanced, and my grandfather moved with his unit into Italy to continue fighting until their surrender in 1943. Not long afterwards, my grandfather met my grandmother in Italy. That’s how my whole story even became possible.
However, the biggest contributing factor to why I wanted to join the military is largely because of my father who joined the Marine Corps in ’57, fought in the Dominican Republic in ’65, and got out in ’68. Shortly after, I believe, he served in the Army National Guard from ’70-’90. During that same timeframe he was a full-time police officer in California. My father was always extremely patriotic and loved serving his country. I admired my father so much growing up that I knew my calling in life would eventually guide me down a similar path. All his police buddies had military backgrounds, predominantly from the Vietnam timeframe which resonated with me. All this ultimately directed my path to a very early preparation to join the Marine Corps Infantry, with the ambition of pursuing a more specialized background.
But early on, I didn’t know if I was good enough to go Recon or Force Recon and MARSOC didn’t exist at the time. When you aspire for something like that, you know, sometimes the people who are in those fields almost look superhuman-like, and sometimes you wonder, “do I really have what it takes, go that route?”
My first unit I joined in the Marine Corps was LAR – a light armored mechanized infantry unit. I learned some valuable things there and met some great Marines, but I also ran into some terrible Marines too. In my first platoon I had really bad leadership, which later on taught me a valuable lesson: Exactly how not to be like as a leader!
And then right before I left LAR, I had excellent leadership. 1st Sergeant Loya who retired as a SgtMaj, was a big contributing factor to the reason why I got my opportunity to go over to Recon. He was a prior Force Recon Marine. The guy was built like a spark plug, and for somebody that was probably in his early 40’s, he could still practically outperform the large majority of the battalion in PT (physical training). Beyond all that, he genuinely loved the men that he led. His leadership style was more that of a father but also someone that was highly respected and that you did not want to disappoint or piss off.
He was very inspirational and helped motivate me to seek something further for myself in life – to seek out a higher challenge. So, I reset my sites back on Recon, and after making it I realized I had found my home. Six great years and three deployments later in Recon I looked to the next progression for my career. MARSOC was already up and operating with an aggressive training cycle in preparation for the next big fight in Afghanistan. A lot of my friends from Recon had already transferred over there. It looked like the next best thing, a new challenge, and one I gladly accepted.
What, if anything, do you miss about being in the Recon community versus being in MARSOC at this point?
There was just an atmosphere in Recon that, for that time, I don’t think you can really replicate or replace. There’s a real brotherhood there, and warfare bonded us closer together. Ultimately, I just miss the camaraderie with the Recon guys. There was always just a healthy, competitive spirit that everybody had about them. You were always competing against your brother, but there wasn’t any sort of animosity. It was all in a loving way. For lack of better words, you always challenged each other, especially in training, and even in combat. Every platoon was trying to outdo the other ones but we all mutually supported one another.
Everyone worked hand-in-hand together. Our SOP’s (standard operating procedures) were practically the same, and we also worked together inside the house with (close quarters battle) tactics which was all dynamic. Even though our platoons were separated, our tactics were the same. When we operated in the house, we would often times mix teams together with other platoons just because combat could call for that very same thing.
You may have to take on a large structure or multiple structures to where one platoon isn’t enough to cover all the ground, so we would incorporate another platoon for additional support. And the more familiar you guys are with each other the better. There was just a unique, I guess, working spirit that everyone had together and really in a way embodied the term “gung-ho”, which translates to “working together in spirit” or as my father would say “working together in harmony”. Recon Marines – and Marines in general – always look after their brothers, and you always looked after their best interests.
Do you have a favorite moment from your time in uniform – something that you’re particularly proud of?
All of my deployments with Recon were great. I mean, some of the workups weren’t necessarily fun at times and the actual deployments definitely had their own suck factor, but my overall favorite experiences of being in the military were the two times that I deployed as a Recon team leader. My first team and combat deployment was great, but as a point man I didn’t grow. I just did what I was told to do, as by design. Being thrown into a leadership position really forced me to take a deeper look into myself. Having seen firsthand great and terrible leaders I wanted to ensure that I did not repeat past mistakes from others as I re-evaluated my AAR (after action report) of life experiences. At that time, it was the next door for me to walk through, and for me, this one was very personal.
One of the greatest pieces of advice that I ever received was from a father figure of mine growing up named Dave Deluca, who was a Ranger that served as a 1st Lt. with the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam. Dave was a great friend of my fathers who I went to see just before I left on my first deployment. He said three things to me: first, “never tell your men to do something that you have never done yourself or don’t have the balls to do yourself”, “if it scares you to do something as a leader, you should not send one of your men to do it for you, do it yourself and your second in command should be ready to take over should anything happen to you”, and the last was “don’t ever think at any time point in time during combat that you’re not going to make it, no matter how bad it gets, always believe that you’ll live no matter what, even if wounded, and always take care of your men and do whatever you need to survive, nothing more”.
One of the biggest things that I wanted to do as a leader other than the obvious was to ensure that I actually listened to and mentored my men. Evaluating them was vital and something that I was intimately involved in. Any opportunity that presented itself turned into a quick on the spot lesson. At the same time, I encouraged them all to be free thinkers and to partake in mission planning. Like any leader I believe that I’m tactically sound and proficient, but I’m not the smartest, nor can I think of everything. So, I made it clear to my men that at any point in time If I ever made a mistake or need correction, by all means do so regardless of rank but please do it professionally. I’m not above reproach and if I’m making decisions in combat that can affect whether or not we make it back alive, then everyone needs to have trust in me and my ability if I’m truly going to lead. If I’m messed up in anyway, or if there’s a better way to get the job done, I want to know. Their voices were equally as important as my own, as there’s always a risk when you step outside the wire and the enemy always gets to vote. In combat, life and death is weighted and measured by seconds and inches, and anything can get you killed – including doing nothing. My team needed to know that I would always look after them no matter what and they could approach me at any time about anything. I did not know how to put it into words at the time, but I was encouraging and strengthening trust within my team.
You have to sharpen both sides of the sword. On one side, you learn and improve yourself. On the other, you teach your guys so that they grow in the direction that they’re supposed to.– GySgt Joshua Negron
Aside from war, I wanted my men to grow professionally and become great leaders themselves. By the time I was a team leader with my second team, it wasn’t uncommon for a Recon Marine to be promoted to Sergeant within his first two years. It happened very quickly and was normal. Afterwards though, it can take four to five years to get Staff Sergeant or more (laughs). By this time, I had eight years in as a newly promoted Staff Sergeant. My main goal was to train my men to be better by the end of that deployment, as Sergeants with three and a half years in the Marine Corps, than I was as a Sergeant when I was at my seven-year mark.
This was possible because I was giving them information willingly and freely. I wasn’t withholding anything from them, but at the same time, I’m also not fire hosing them with information. As simple as this is, it was not very common from what I previously saw in the infantry. What I saw were a lot of keepers of the badge. At the time when I was a junior Marine there wasn’t a whole lot of mentoring going on, and if there was, it was very little. It was only,” I’m going to give you just enough information to where you learn something, but I’m also going to purposely withhold information from you because I don’t want you to grow beyond and possibly outshine me.”
You have to sharpen both sides of the sword. On one side, you learn and improve yourself. On the other, you teach your guys so that they grow in the direction that they’re supposed to. This rarely happens as everything in the military is performance driven. The byproduct of freely teaching and giving all information by default forces that leader to take a deeper look into themselves and identify what they’re deficient in and find ways to improve. Otherwise, if this step is missed as a leader who freely mentors their personnel without withholding, eventually their men and woman are going to grow past them – resulting in promotions above them. If I’m going to keep up with them, I’ve got to continue to look deeper into myself and see what I can make better.
This is the way of giving back to the community.
A true leader doesn’t make more subordinates, they make more leaders. They’re humble in nature and they take responsibility over things that aren’t even their fault in regard to those within their command. They’re stern when needed but also compassionate towards those they lead. Members of any command are not just numbers to do your bidding as a leader, they are family – the lifeline and heartbeat of the community. If this is lost, you lose trust, and if that’s lost, you have nothing as a leader. You will use your men and woman as tools to build and promote yourself instead of using your position and instruments to further develop, and hone those that you are blessed to lead. This is Esprit de Corps, this is Gung Ho!
What special operations skillset came most naturally to you?
The things that came most naturally to me was shooting and really just being and operating in the bush – your basic infantry concepts and tactics. And really anything related to R&S (reconnaissance and surveillance) and SR (special reconnaissance).
I kind of had a knack for it even though I have a love-hate relationship with R&S because it always involved carrying a pack that was over 100 pounds, deuce gear that was like another 50 pounds, and then my weapon. I practically carried myself in body weight every single time we stepped out (laughs). I kind of hated that aspect of it, but I loved once we got on site and we started our reporting, started collecting information on our target site. I just love that aspect of it.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to treat your training like it’s real. You never know when it will be. Plus, during training you’re always competing against your counterparts that are inserting into the bush as well – oftentimes with you – but they’re just taking another piece of the objective. And so, you have that friendly competition going, but at the same time, you’re both performing exceptionally well and doing a great job on target site. So, you’re adhering to the Recon creed of honoring those who came before.
Which skillset took the most work to master in spite of not being very good at it initially?
Things that I wasn’t that great at? Well, I was never really that fast in the water and I’m still not that fast in the water.
Diving (school) sucked for me, especially going into it with an injured ankle, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do. I just wasn’t fast in the water. Actually, one of my good buddies that I joined Recon with – he was a big dude at 6’4, 220-240lbs – he was slow on land but fast on the water, and I was slow in the water but fast on land. So, when we were getting thrashed in pre-BRC (Basic Reconnaissance Course), I was the one smiling on the runs because he was typically the last dude coming in. Then when we got to the pool, it reversed. I was like the last guy to finish while he was one of the first ones out. He just sat on the pool side and laughed at me.
In a way, it motivated us to not quit. We both suffered in silence and suffered uniquely together, and that camaraderie bonded us. We both saw each other in some of our worst moments and our best moments as we fought to solidify our place within the Recon community.
Do you have a favorite place that you’ve visited?
Deployment-wise, I would have loved to have seen more of Australia, but unfortunately didn’t get to see too much during one quick stop in Darwin.
Dubai was cool and that area was really nice.
I really like anything with history, especially anything that has long history. So, when I went to Jordan, I got an opportunity to take a trip over to Petra. If you’ve ever seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it’s the city that’s carved into the rock. That’s Petra. The movie only shows one spot actually, but there are multiple places like that and it’s a massive city that’s carved into other rocks all around. It’s got a bunch of what seemed to me like hundreds or possibly thousands of little homes in between some of those larger dedicated sites.
What is something unique about you that most people don’t know?
As most men involved with self-defense, I was inspired by Bruce Lee.
My favorite film he did was “Enter the Dragon”. That was definitely one of the best ones for me, but I really enjoyed more of his documentaries and reading books on him – he is just very inspirational.
He obviously had this amazing physical ability that dazzled the world, but people who had the opportunity to meet him were oftentimes more impressed by his spoken words.
He wasn’t just a martial artist; he was poet, a father, a husband, who lived and embodied a warrior spirit that is very uncommon. At the end of it all Bruce did not embrace the illusion of fame, he wanted to be remembered as a real human being who was fully alive. In his own words, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”