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"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Marine Band Admin Clerk Serves as Parade Commander

By Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali | United States Marine Band | August 21, 2018

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­As she drew her sword and belted out commands before the platoons of ceremonial marchers in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, Marine Band administrative clerk Sgt. Kimberly Santiago made history as the first female parade commander of the non-commissioned officer Sunset Parade hosted by Marine Barracks Washington.

In the role of parade commander, Santiago was responsible for the sequence of events throughout the ceremony, leading a battalion of troops which included the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon and “The Commandant’s Own” United States Drum and Bugle Corps.

According to former Parade Commander and Executive Assistant to the Marine Band Director Lt. Col. John R. Barclay (USMC, ret.), “Every year the Barracks holds one staff non-commissioned officer parade and one non-commissioned officer parade. This provides an opportunity for SNCOs and NCOs to hold key billets in the parades that they wouldn’t normally get to hold because those billets are held by officers.”

Marine Barracks Washington Parade Commander Major Eric P. Roby noted, “It’s important to showcase our NCOs because as leaders we rely on them heavily. They’re the ones making the mission happen every single day, so this is a chance to show off their skills and talents.”

Historical records show that on Nov. 10, 1954, the 179th birthday of the United States Marine Corps, a bronze monument modeled after the famous photo of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, was unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery. President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial to all Marines who had died to keep their country free. Since September 1956, marching and musical units from Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., have been paying tribute to those whose “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” by presenting Sunset Parades at the memorial. Due to construction at the Marine Corps War Memorial, the 2018 NCO Sunset Parade was held at the Lincoln Memorial along the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

After attending a Sunset parade earlier in her Marine Corps career, Santiago knew she wanted to be part of it. “I was impressed by the execution, dedication, professionalism, and Esprit de Corps I witnessed,” she said. In March 2018, Santiago attended Ceremonial Drill School (CDS) at Marine Barracks Washington, a three-week class during which students are evaluated during a scripted sequence in order to prove they have mastered the basics of ceremonial drill. Following CDS and a tryout, Santiago was selected to serve as the NCO parade commander.

Major Douglas R. Burian, Executive Assistant to the Director and officer-in-charge of the Marine Band’s support staff, attended the parade to watch Santiago as she excelled. 

“It was really inspiring to see what traditionally has been a male role so powerfully led by a female,” he said. “Undoubtedly there were kids in the audience—little girls—who watched and said ‘I can do that.’ I think about that as the father of daughters.”

Maj. Burian wasn’t the only proud member of the Marine Band watching from the crowd.

Along with the hundreds of spectators crowded onto the steps of the monument built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Santiago’s supervisor, Administrative Chief Gunnery Sgt. Crystal Holmes, watched with pride. “I felt like a proud mama bear watching her lead as parade commander. She is a superstar at everything she does, and I’m proud to have her as one of my Marines!”

But Santiago said it didn’t come easy. “We’ve been practicing since June. It took a lot of hard work and practice to execute the movements together. I had a great team of Marines and leaders working with me.”

The newest member of the Marine Band’s administration office, Cpl. Lavonya Carter, served as a member of that team, marching behind Sgt. Santiago as the junior flanking NCO.

When asked what challenged her, Santiago did not hesitate with her reply: “Voice commands! My breathing was way off and I was not using my diaphragm at all. But after a lot of correction and guidance from the Marine Barracks Drill Master Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Calderon, I became more capable and confident. It was very important for me to be able to deliver the commands loudly and with authority for the entire battalion to hear me.”

“And as we were learning, it was important to use ditties and a metronome to ensure everyone was executing the movements at the same time,” she continued, “Making sure to stay engaged during the parade was also important. There are so many things happening that it could be easy to get distracted and miss a cue.”

Prior to the parade, the drill master also motivated Santiago with these words: “On Aug. 13, 1918, Opha Mae Johnson was the first female to join the Marine Corps. One hundred years later, Santiago was the first female to march a Sunset Parade at the Lincoln Memorial as a Parade Commander.” 

Learn more about the Sunset Parade

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