MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI -- When people hear the word Marine, they think of courageous men and women loyal to their country, disciplined service members and last but not least, they think of leaders.
While all Marines carry those qualities, only one per year can earn the bragging rights of being the Marine Corps Installations Pacific Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.
2017’s MCIPAC NCO of the Year is U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Paul McMahon, a correctional specialist and brig administration chief at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
Born in 1988 in Oak Park, Illinois, McMahon went to Oak Park and River Forest High School before attending recruit training Jan. 4, 2010, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
“He is the definition of selfless,” said U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Burke, a correctional specialist at MCAS Iwakuni. “He is exactly what you want in a leader. He inspects what he expects.”
Burke said McMahon gives the Marines under him tools they need as far as coaching, mentoring and teaching them to be successful leaders. He is constantly evaluating their progress and figuring out different ways they can improve what goes on in their day-to-day lives.
McMahon has consistently proven his leadership skills by winning NCO of the Quarter and now as MCIPAC NCO of the Year.
“I think it’s always about leadership,” said McMahon. “I’ve never had the strongest physical fitness test, combat fitness test or the highest rifle score. I’ve never been the best at any one thing, but I think I’ve shown consistently that my work ethic is very strong. With that, I think leadership depends a lot on your work ethic.”
McMahon said that being a leader never stops. He is never done being a leader even when he’s at home and gets a call at two in the morning.
“When I found out I was competing for NCO of the Year for MCIPAC, I was a little surprised,” said McMahon. “I just put it in the back of my mind and didn’t think about it too much because of all the things happening administratively behind the scenes and sometimes you never hear about it again, but I go into every situation thinking I’ll come out on top. Everything I do I expect to be the best at it.”
He found out he won after a physical training session while he was a student at Sergeant’s Course. He said his celebration was a little muted at first because all he wanted to do was take his boots off and air his feet out.
While the natural inclination for most would be to sit back and rest on their accomplishments, McMahon took a different approach. He said this award increased his appetite for success.
“Since learning I won, I’ve analyzed what I did that got me here, what traits the senior leadership is looking for and traits the Marine Corps is looking for that put me in this position,” said McMahon. “I don’t see being MCIPAC NCO of the Year as being the end goal or the end state.”
He said there was a lot of introspective thinking about how he could use this platform to further the Marines around him and to better the Marine Corps. He saw this as being the first step to becoming a representative for MCIPAC and for the Marine Corps.
“To me, now is when I really earn it because in my mind I didn’t earn it before,” said McMahon. “This award just put me in position for it, but now is when I earn it. The actions I take now, the affect I have on the command and junior Marines is when I earn this title.”
While McMahon upholds the image of the Corps, he said his career has had its ups and downs. He received a non-judicial punishment at his previous duty station resulting in a loss of rank.
“It was crushing,” said McMahon. “I had spent a very long time building up a reputation for myself and in just an instant that was gone.”
McMahon didn’t let that mistake get the best of him. Every step of that process has humbled him and saw it as an opportunity to become a better version of himself.
“I just took that dose of humility, took the appreciation for what I have and just incorporated that into who I am now,” said McMahon. “I would say that a large part of going down and coming back up was utilizing part of the chain of command and learning to lean on my juniors, seniors and the people on my left and right.”
He said he was definitely more effective as a corporal a second time and is more effective as a sergeant now for having been through that experience.
“I’m consistently emulating the leadership principles and the core values but also showing the human side of it,” said McMahon. “I’m always willing to talk to any Marine who is going through non-judicial procedures or some type of administrative action. I especially enjoy talking to those Marines because I want them to know, need them to know, we still need them to fight. We still need them with their pack on.”
He sets the example that just because something negative happens, it’s not the end of the line.
“No one gets anywhere without someone else,” said McMahon. “Taking a step back, humbling myself and realizing that it’s about more than just what I can do for the Marine Corps, but also what I can bring out in other people.”