USS IWO JIMA, Arabian Gulf --
To a lot of people, leadership is just a word, an idea. But to Lance Cpl. Dustin Saltsman leadership is more than a word; it’s a way of life.
Despite his relatively unassuming demeanor, the basic engineer electrical equipment system technician is anything but ordinary.
In just a few months the New York native went from having a gray belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), to being a green belt instructor, a title usually reserved for non-commissioned officers and which takes more than 170 hours to attain.
He earned this latest belt underway aboard USS Iwo Jima after the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit set sail late August aboard the Iwo Jima Strike Group.
MCMAP is a combat system developed by the Marine Corps in 2001 which combines existing and new hand-to-hand and close quarters combat techniques with morale and team-building functions.
The program uses a system of colored belts similar to that of most martial arts. The different levels of belts are tan, gray, green, green belt instructor, brown, brown belt instructor, black, black belt instructor and five higher degrees of black belt.
MCMAP instructors can train other Marines up to their current belt level, and certify Marines at one level below their current belt level. A green belt instructor can therefore certify others for tan and gray belts. Upon earning green belt instructor, Saltsman immediately began assisting with MCMAP training aboard USS Iwo Jima.
Despite the long-grueling hours of training he kept a positive attitude.
“I thought it was fun, actually; it was a great time,” he said. He went on to say that had it not been for the course he would have never had the chance to meet such a diverse group of people aboard the ship. “I met a whole lot of different people that I … normally don’t talk to, like (infantrymen).”
Of course his positive attitude isn’t surprising. He is no stranger to overcoming adversity.
At the age of six, he heard some dreadful news.
“When I was six I got told I was never gonna walk again,” he said. “I went to one doctor … and he told me that I was never gonna walk again, there was nothing he could do. (So,) we went and got a second opinion and a couple months later I went and got my surgery on my left hip.”
A little more than two years later he was not only walking, but playing sports – a testament to Saltsman's spirit of perseverance.
“It’s pushing yourself to the limit," he said, "knowing that people can tell you that, ‘you will never make it,’ and overcoming that adversity.”
Even though he often teaches those who outrank him, Saltsman has maintained his humility.
“Since getting to know … Saltsman, he has continued to impress me as a solid junior leader of Marines,” said Gunnery Sgt. Adam Wilner, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s electronic key management system chief and MCMAP instructor. He went on to say that "not only is he performing as an NCO, I think he is doing it better than Marines with years more experience. As a (staff non-commissioned officer,) … I have seen Marines that I thought would perform well in front of their peers and seniors flop. And now, I have a (lance corporal) teaching his leadership in a very competent and professional manner. Most Marines that get a little bit of authority try to take advantage of it. Saltsman doesn’t. “
Leadership might not come as natural to everyone as it does to Saltsman, but he has a word of advice to those who are wary of taking that first step.
“Anybody can be a leader,” he explained. “It should be common sense. People shouldn’t have to tell you to do your job. You should just get out there and do it.”