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Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, the II Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, welcomes the Marines and Sailors to the Heroes and Healthy Families Leadership Awareness Conference at the New Bern Convention Center, May 26.

Photo by Cpl. Samuel A. Nasso

Marines, Sailors attend leadership conference

4 Jun 2010 | Cpl. Samuel A. Nasso

Approximately a thousand Marines and sailors gathered for the Heroes and Healthy Families Leadership Awareness Conference at the New Bern Convention Center, May 26.

“The purpose of this conference is to make Marine noncommissioned officers and Navy E-4 and E-5’s better small-unit leaders by giving them the tools necessary to being a good, informed leader,” said Navy Capt. Larry Greenslit, the II Marine Expeditionary Force chaplain.

In 2003, Pamela Iles, an Orange County superior court judge in California at the time, founded the Heroes and Healthy Families Program to train Marines on returning home safely from deployments, while ensureing their junior Marines return safely as well.

The first conference was held in 2004 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., with seven conferences held since, all at Camp Pendleton. The conference on May 26 marked the first occasion the conference has been held on the East Coast, offering Marines and Sailors from MCB Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River and Cherry Point the opportunity to attend the conference.

The conference included 10 guest speakers, all professionals that were chosen to speak about their specialty and how it pertains to the Marines and Sailors.

The speakers included Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, II MEF commanding general; Robert Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas; Eric Hipple, former NFL quarterback and author, Dr. John “Blackjack” Matthews, a retired Lt. Col; the Honorable Paul Hardison, an Onslow county District Court judge; and several more.

“It was nice to have professionals talk to us compared to just another Marine telling us this or telling us that,” said Cpl. Joshua Thompson, an administrative clerk with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2. “These speakers have actually done research in their respective fields, and hearing advice from them and their experiences definitely taught me a lot.”

The speakers talked about an array of topics relevant to small-unit leaders and how they can learn from their experiences. They talked about relationships, domestic abuse, finances, divorce, depression, suicide and how combat stress affects each.

For example, Dr. Matthews spoke of his experiences in combat and how he battled alcohol problems throughout his career in the Marine Corps.

“For me having a wife and two kids, I learned a lot of information from the conference,” Thompson said. “The judge from Onslow County talked about family law, the former judge talked about domestic violence, and the retired lieutenant colonel talked about his experience with alcohol, and it really makes me take a look at what’s going on in my marriage and lets me look at my Marines with a more informed eye knowing what could be happening in their lives.”

Iles founded the Heroes and Healthy Families program as a community outreach to Marines with that exact intent: to inform small unit leaders as much as possible so they can acknowledge all of the topics covered in the conference in not only their subordinate Marines’ lives but their lives as well.

 “Seeing Marines come into my court with combat stress issues that led to domestic violence, depression and alcoholism was just sad, so I wanted to start an outreach for these Marines,” Iles said. “Today’s conference went well, and I think the young Marines and Sailors learned that decision making at home is just as important as it is in the field. They need to know to just stop, take a step back in their lives, and they will then see everything in a better perspective.”

This conference, being the first of its kind on the East Coast, will hopefully open the eyes of more Marines and word will spread.

“We’ve been asked by another general at another base to have this conference and on June 10 will have one aboard Camp Pendleton,” Iles said. “Our goal is to have these conferences as much as possible, and we hope we can have the funding to do so.”

Additionally, to make this conference happen the Heroes and Healthy Families program is supported and sponsored by Marine and Family Services, The Family Violence Project, also founded by Iles, The Superior Court of California Orange County, and the Superior Court of California (San Diego).

For more information regarding Heroes and Healthy Families, visit their Web site at http://www.heroesandhealthyfamilies.com.