Beloved leader, guitarist remembered for deft touch

6 May 2011 | Sgt. Jesse Stence

Whether plucking the strings of his guitar or expertly navigating the complex scales of authority to help his Marines, Sgt. Sean T. Callahan had a deft touch.

Callahan, a native of Warrenton, Va., was the assistant patrol leader with Combined Anti-Armor Team Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. He made the ultimate sacrifice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom while patrolling through Marjah, Helmand province, April 23.

Cpl. Tyler Cook, one of Callahan’s best friends in the battalion, often reminisces on what he’ll eventually remember as the old days: he and Callahan in the barracks of Marine Corp Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., exploring the frets of their guitars.

Callahan, he said, “was an amazing guitar player who could play anything” but preferred jamming out to the quick, dissident melodies of Citizen Cope and other similar bands.

“His whole family is musically inclined – all awesome guitar players,” Cook said.

Just as Callahan could strike the balance between dissonance and harmony on the guitar, he was an agile leader with a sense of when to be tractable and when to tactfully question his superiors on behalf of his Marines and mission.

Callahan stood out from his peers, and Feb. 2, he was combat-meritoriously promoted to sergeant.

In Weapons Company’s May newsletter, the unit commanding officer and first sergeant described his evaluation for promotion.

“(We) remember when the battalion sergeant major said, ‘Weapons Company, you have a meritorious sergeant quota,’ and the first corporal (we) thought of was Callahan, because (we) knew he was ready for the responsibility and challenges that lay ahead,” read the letter, which was signed by Capt. Daniel Macsay and 1st Sgt. Anthony Easton.

1st Lt. Gerard M. Van Amerongen, Callahan’s platoon commander, remembers him as “a (non-commissioned officer) with swagger, humility and absolute professionalism.”

“When I first met him, I had asked him to come down from his vehicle turret so we could meet and talk for a few minutes,” recalled Van Amerongen. “I wanted him to be at ease, so I asked him not to stand with his hands behind his back. He was one of my NCOs; I didn’t think we needed to be formal.”

“We talked for a few minutes,” continued Van Amerongen, “and afterward, he turned to me and said, ‘Sir, I respect rank, I don’t fear it.”

“He couldn’t have said it in a more frank and professional way. And that image, I think, captures him: a tell-it-like-it-is NCO who had just the right amount of swagger and confidence but was also fiercely loyal to the Marines in his charge and his leadership.”

Editor’s Note: Callahan was born June 14, 1987. He began his Marine Corps journey, March 24, 2008, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. He graduated June 20, 2008, and reported to School of Infantry, at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., shortly thereafter. Upon graduation from SOI, Sept. 10, 2008, Callahan was assigned to 3/9, Camp Lejeune, for duty as an anti-tank missileman for Weapons Company.

In 2009, Callahan deployed with Weapons Company in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In December of 2010, Callahan deployed again, this time to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Callahan was stationed at Patrol Base Wakil Wazir, Marjah, Helmand Province, when his life tragically ended. His awards include Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a combat “V” for valor, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, and the Purple Heart.