CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — After more than 30 years of dedicated service to the Marine Corps, it came time for Sgt. Maj. Neil O’Connell, outgoing I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group sergeant major, to retire and pass his responsibilities to another Marine.
O’Connell retired and presented a non-commissioned officer’s sword to Sgt. Maj. K. Rocquemore Jr., incoming sergeant major of I MHG, during a relief, appointment and retirement ceremony at the Camp Del Mar parade deck here Sept. 30.
Rocquemore said he looked forward to the challenge and the opportunity to serve as the next I MHG sergeant major, but humbly kept his comments short.
“This is not my day,” Rocquemore said. “This day belongs to the man with 34 years of service.”
Retired Col. Jack Kelly, who posted as the retiring and reviewing officer for the ceremony, shared fond memories of O’Connell’s service with fellow Marines, family and guests.
“Standing here before us is one of the finest Marines I have personally had the pleasure to serve with and to have witnessed the pride and professional manner in which he has served our country and the Marine Corps,” Kelly said. “Sgt. Maj. O’Connell has been the epitome of what the Corps wants and expects of its staff non-commissioned officers. His appearance, manner, knowledge and personal bravery have been truly exemplary and served as an example for all to observe and emulate.”
Kelly presented O’Connell with the Legion of Merit for his meritorious conduct and exemplary service.
O’Connell, who enlisted in the Marine Corps October 1977, said he was humbled to stand before his family, friends and fellow Marines during the ceremony. He also emphasized the honor and gratitude was not about himself.
“It’s about those young men and women who are standing out there, those young men and women who are doing the Lord’s work, who are pushing really hard right now,” O’Connell said. “Family and friends, to all the Marines who have come here from Camp Lejeune, thank you all for coming out today.”
In November 2005, O’Connell was assigned to I MHG. He deployed to Iraq February 2006 to February 2007 and January 2008 to February 2009 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He also deployed to Afghanistan March 2010 to March 2011.
“I want to personally thank you Sgt. Maj. O’Connell for the sacrifices you have made and your leadership and indeed your friendship,” said Col. Steven Hanson, commanding officer of I MHG.
O’Connell’s personal decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with a gold star in lieu of second award, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a gold star in lieu of second award, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and various service and unit awards.
“Shamrock99 out,” O’Connell said. “I’m just rolling to another frequency.”