Wrestling with success: MEU Commander grappled his way up

2 Feb 2001 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Somewhere in Palatine, Ill. is a dense, foam mat on which Col. Kenneth J. Glueck, Jr. has built much of his life.It was inside the painted circle on this mat, more than three decades ago, when Glueck discovered wrestling, a sport that would forever after set him apart."[Wrestling taught me] that I'm going to work harder than anybody else to be successful," said Glueck, whose most recent tour of duty as Commanding Officer of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit ended on Feb. 2 when he handed command to Col. Andrew P. Frick. As a MEU Commander, Glueck led one of the most forward deployed forces in the United States. His force made history when they became the first U.S. peacekeepers to move into Kosovo, and again when they became one of the firsts and the largest American unit to train with the Croatian military.His career success started on the wrestling mat. As an NCAA Division Three All-American, Glueck was among the best college wrestlers in the country."It's all about attention to detail; the basics," said Glueck. "Everybody thinks a good wrestler is the guy that has all the fancy moves. [But the best] guys are good because they can do the basic moves at any time on anybody."You stick to it and you don't quit. It's not easy, but the world out there isn't easy."This rang especially true for Glueck after college graduation. He wanted to further his wrestling career. That he knew the Marine Corps had a strong wrestling program prompted him to take a commission.Although he did wrestle his first year in the Marine Corps, during which he won a major tournament in California, his time on the mat tapered off as he began flight school in Pensacola, Fla. Ironically, Glueck said he used much of his wrestling fundamentals when he stepped away from the mat."Flight school has got to be the hardest experience I think I've ever had in my life. I can remember, vividly, just how bad I was when I was trying to learn," he said. "One of the things I learned in wrestling is that if you keep plodding and keep pushing, you'll make it."As in wrestling, Glueck did more than just make it. He would return to flight school as an instructor and unit leader, take the reigns of 'Marine One' as a Presidential Command Pilot and become a squadron commander. Another ethos Glueck learned on the wrestling mat was not to believe in failure."If you fail, that means you quit," he said. "I keep working harder and harder. I have never been content in my performance; I've always thought I could do better."When Glueck would wrestle, his focus would be his competitor at the time, not walking away the champion. He carries this same outlook today."My vision was to be the best at what I was doing at that particular time. I never thought I'd be a squadron commander, let alone a MEU Commander," he said.In his two years with the 26th MEU, Glueck commanded the unit through NATO's bombing campaign over the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, led the first wave in the follow-on peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo, provided disaster relief in Turkey, security for Refugee camps in Albania and helped pioneer the largest cross-training exercise between the U.S. and Croatian militaries in history. Moreover, in none of these operations and exercises did Glueck have a single fatality."I don't take success for granted," he said. "People say there's a lot of luck involved but I say we make our own luck."Glueck points to the exercise his unit pioneered in Croatia. The force fired every weapon in their arsenal with no casualties. He cites attention detail, something he also stresses in wrestling, as the key to these successes."In the MEU(SOC) business, attention to detail is the difference between success and not getting killed," he said. "The Devil is in the details. The MEU(SOC) is really not that high speed or fancy if you break it down. Constant approach; stick to the basics."Like wrestling: You might be a champion this week, but you've got to prove it again next week, and every week after that."Glueck said his past assignment was the highlight of career."Leaving [was] bitter sweet," he said. "This was the opportunity of a lifetime. I consider myself to be an average guy [who tried] to do an above average job."By all accounts he succeeded in one of the Marine Corps' most important commands. Virtually every Commandant of the Marine Corps in recent history, to include Gen. James L. Jones, served as a MEU Commander. On more than one occasion, Glueck and his expeditionary force were sent to foreign shores where they were not always welcome. In 1999, the unit successfully thwarted sniper fire and various other would-be acts of aggression during an operation in Kosovo, but no one was hurt. A testimony, said Glueck, to his unit's constant planning and vigilant readiness. A testimony, perhaps, to a wrestler who fought deliberately basic. A testimony, perhaps, to a MEU Commander who never forgot the lessons he first learned on a mat in Palatine, Ill.