CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Capt. Ramon Pattugalan, of Fontana, Calif., had two objectives before this deployment to Afghanistan began: bring all his Marines back home alive and make them better than they were before they left. It is safe to say he completed that mission.
“He’s a great Marine and a great [joint terminal attack controller],” said Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Armstrong, a forward observer with Fire Control Team 5, Supporting Arms Liaison Team Chuck, 2nd Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. “He’s the picture of what a Marine Corps officer should be. He knows where to put his Marines and when they need to be moved.”
Pattugalan, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, has been serving in the Marine Corps for the past seven years. During this time he has been assigned to an artillery battery, the 24 Marine Expeditionary Unit and a Military Transition Team in Iraq. He is currently the leader of FCTs 5 and 6, SALT Chuck, 2nd ANGLICO.
Second ANGLICO consist of forward observers and radio operators who facilitate close air support for the unit they are attached to. Even though each Marine is trained to do their own specific job, Pattugalan emphasizes a lot of cross training.
“You’re only one bullet away from the next responsibility,” said Pattugalan. “Everybody knows each other’s job. I believe you need to be good at your basic job and then be really good at your fellow Marine’s job. I want them to know the job inside and out – to be able to do it in the dark.”
He even taught his Marines how to do his job. Pattugalan works as the joint terminal attack controller in the 33rd Georgian Light Infantry Battalion’s combat operations center at Patrol Base Ertoba. In this dim lit workspace filled with laptops and TV monitors, he works with the Georgians to coordinate close air support for patrols. This has been the focal point for how his deployment has been run.
During the first three months of the deployment, Pattugalan was working in the combat operations center from 6 a.m. to midnight. After some time, he started rotating Marines in and out of the center to learn how to control aircraft. Now that his Marines are more comfortable working in there, Pattagulan has given them more responsibility.
“They’ve shown a huge level of proficiency in operating all the intricacies of a [combat operations center],” Pattugalan said. “Seeing these guys come together as one cohesive unit with minimal information and maximum effort, it produced awesome results. They make me proud everyday.”
Sgt. Christopher Holm, the team chief for FCT 6, feels he has benefitted immensely from Pattugalan’s leadership.
“He’s one of the best officers I’ve ever worked for in my Marine Corps career,” said Holm, a native of Bakersfield, Calif. “He’s gotten me more prepared to become a JTAC. He’s taught me so much concerning not only [fire support] matters, but Marine Corps stuff as well.”
Like any leader, Pattugalan has had to reprimand his Marines from time to time for certain mistakes they have made. However, he uses his own unique method in addressing their faults.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Lance Cpl. Jose Rivera, a radio operator with FCT 6. “He doesn’t exactly raise his voice. You can still tell that he’s angry. He just uses the right words.”
Words, not volume, are what Pattugalan uses to educate his Marines.
“I don’t yell,” Pattugalan said. “It’s not my style. I mostly want them to know what they did wrong instead of scream at them. Raising your voice doesn’t get your point across anymore than talking normally. There’s ways to educate and mentor guys and yelling is not one of them.”
Moreover, Pattugalan sees his position as one of a mentor and not as an authoritarian figure.
“The way I look at it is this: as an officer and leader of Marines, I am a manager of people,” Pattugalan said. “I can pull my rank as captain, but I would incur a lot of animosity from my Marines if I didn’t do everything I could to take care of them first. These guys maintain the high professional standards of customs and courtesies. I’ve never had a reason to remind them that I’m a captain. It helps me focus on the things that matter.”
This style of leadership has cultivated a deep level of respect and loyalty from his Marines, all of whom aim to impress him on a daily basis.
The only real time Pattugalan’s Marines dislike him is when he is leading physical training. His workout sessions include a grueling regimen of weight training, pull-ups, push-ups and cardio.
“He slays his body everyday,” Armstrong said. “He puts us through some [physical training] where we think we’re going to die.”
Pattugalan believes this type of intense conditioning is the perfect way to unwind after a day of patrols and providing overwatch from outlook posts.
“In a high stress and challenging environment, nothing gets you to go to sleep better than some good [physical training],” Pattugalan said. “I try to keep it interesting. I don’t want to push them to where they can’t throw on their flak jacket.”
With the deployment coming to a close, Pattugalan is preparing to return home to his wife, Lilly, and their two children. He will then be attending the Expeditionary Warfare School at Marine Corps Base Quantico. After seven years and three deployments, Pattugalan is looking forward to a break from operational forces.
His Marines on the other hand, are upset that the man who has watched over and guided them for the past seven months will be leaving them.
“I was ticked off when he told us he’s leaving the unit after the deployment,” said Rivera, a native of East Hartford, Conn. “He really cares about us. His priority was to make us better than when we came out here. He wants us all to be leaders. I’d love to deploy with him again. He’s the best JTAC in ANGLICO.”