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Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent

U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major Carlton W. Kent was born on November 5, 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee. Kent graduated from South Side High School in Memphis. His military education includes graduating from the Army Airborne School and Parachute Riggers School in 1981, the Marine Corps Drill Instructor School in 1989, and the Army Sergeants Major Academy in 1994.

In 1976, Kent completed recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina and was assigned to the 1st Marine Brigade. Kent was transferred to the Marine Security Guard Battalion where he served as a Marine security guard at the American Embassy in Kinshasa, Zaire and Panama. In 1983, Kent reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California for duty as a drill instructor, senior drill instructor, and battalion drill master with the First Battalion. Kent was meritoriously promoted to Gunnery Sergeant in 1985. Following his promotion, Kent briefly served as Platoon Sergeant with the 3rd Air Delivery Platoon, and then reported to Hawaii where he was assigned Company Gunnery Sergeant with the Engineer Company, 1st Marine Brigade. In February 1990, Kent was promoted to First Sergeant and assigned as First Sergeant, Marine Aviation and Training Support Group, Pensacola, Florida.

Following his graduation from the Army Sergeants Major Academy in 1994, Kent was assigned as First Sergeant, and then later as Sergeant Major of the 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. In May 2001, Kent was transferred to Stuttgart, Germany where he was assigned to the position of Sergeant Major of Marine Forces in Europe. In 2004, Kent reported to Camp Pendleton, California to serve as the Sergeant Major of the I Marine Expeditionary Force. He was appointed as the 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in April 2007 and served in this position until June 2011.

Kent’s military honors include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with Gold Star, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and the Combat Action Ribbon. He is the recipient of the General Gerald C. Thomas Award for leadership.

U.S. Sergeant Major Carlton W. Kent was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 16, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.052

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/16/2013

Last Name

Kent

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

W.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

South Side High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Carlton

Birth City, State, Country

Memphis

HM ID

KEN05

Favorite Season

Thanksgiving

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Devil Dog!

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/5/1957

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Frosted Flakes

Short Description

Sergeant major Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent (1957 - ) was the 16th Sergeant Major of the United States Marine Corps

Employment

United States Marine Corps

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33808">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Carlton W. Kent's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33809">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Carlton W. Kent lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33810">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Carlton W. Kent describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33811">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Carlton W. Kent describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33812">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Carlton W. Kent tells which parent he takes after and discusses his siblings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33813">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Carlton W. Kent describes growing up in Memphis, Tennessee and shares his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33814">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Carlton W. Kent describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33815">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Carlton W. Kent describes his childhood neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33816">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Carlton W. Kent describes his involvement in the church as a youth and attending elementary school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33817">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Carlton W. Kent discusses his various childhood jobs and activities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33818">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Carlton W. Kent talks about being suspended from his junior high school, describes his academic performance, and playing team sports</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33819">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Carlton W. Kent discusses the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33820">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Carlton W. Kent describes his experience in high school with bussing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33821">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Carlton W. Kent discusses his high school education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33822">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Carlton W. Kent talks about joining the U.S. Marine Corps</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33823">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Carlton W. Kent talks about graduating from high school and starting U.S. Marine Corps boot camp</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33824">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Carlton W. Kent describes his U.S. Marine Corps boot camp training pt.1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33825">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Carlton W. Kent describes his U.S. Marine Corps boot camp training pt.2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33826">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Carlton W. Kent describes his marksmanship and swim training during boot camp</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33827">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Carlton W. Kent discusses his fellow U.S. Marine Corps recruits</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33828">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Carlton W. Kent describes the most difficult part of his boot camp training</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33829">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Carlton W. Kent talks about graduating from basic training in 1976</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33830">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Carlton W. Kent discusses his assignment to the First Marine Brigade in Hawaii</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33831">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Carlton W. Kent talks about his mentors in boot camp and his tour of duty in Zaire</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33832">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Carlton W. Kent describes his tour of duty in Panama and compares it to his tour in Zaire</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33833">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Carlton W. Kent describes attending Army Airborne School at Fort Benning pt.1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33834">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Carlton W. Kent talks about attending Army Airborne School at Fort Benning pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33835">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Carlton W. Kent discusses his promotions to Sergeant and Staff Sergeant</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33836">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Carlton W. Kent describes his experiences as a Platoon Sergeant</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33837">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Carlton W. Kent discusses becoming a drill instructor and his promotion to Gunnery Sergeant</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33838">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Carlton W. Kent describes his career as a Gunnery Sergeant</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33839">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Carlton W. Kent talks about the Gulf War and his job as a drill instructor for the Training in Aviation Officer Candidate School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33840">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Carlton W. Kent describes his duties as a First Sergeant in Okinawa, Japan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33841">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Carlton W. Kent discusses women in the U.S. Marine Corps</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33842">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Carlton W. Kent talks about race relations in the military and the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33843">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Carlton W. Kent describes his role as a Battalion Sergeant Major and his promotion to Sergeant Major of regiment recruit training</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33844">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Carlton W. Kent describes his experience as the Sergeant Major of the Marine Forces-Europe and remembers 9/11</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33845">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Carlton W. Kent discusses military deployment into Iraq following 9/11</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33846">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Carlton W. Kent discusses military operations in Fallujah during the Iraq War pt.1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33847">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Carlton W. Kent discusses military operations in Fallujah during the Iraq War pt.2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33848">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Carlton W. Kent describes the process he went through in order to become Sergeant Major of the U.S. Marine Corps</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33849">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Carlton W. Kent discusses the press coverage of U.S. soldiers in Fallujah and the Iraqi people's reaction to the soldiers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33850">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Carlton W. Kent discusses his nomination to Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in 2007</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33851">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Carlton W. Kent discusses what the election of President Barack Obama meant to him and reflects on highlights from his career in the U.S. Marine Corps</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33852">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Carlton W. Kent reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33853">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Carlton W. Kent describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community and talks about his family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33854">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Carlton W. Kent talks about the transition of veterans into civilian life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/33855">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Carlton W. Kent discusses recommending U.S. Marine Corps service to others and shares how he would like to be remembered</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

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DATitle
Carlton W. Kent describes his U.S. Marine Corps boot camp training pt.1
Carlton W. Kent discusses his nomination to Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in 2007
Transcript
Okay. Now tell us about hell.$$Okay. And the drill instructors come there they pick us up; and again, this is nighttime. They were--you know, Marines are really good at doing everything at night for some reason. So we were tired. We had been up for, like, four days just constantly doing things to get us prepped to--for our drill instructors to pick us up. So they take us over to squad bay, we, you know, they get us into the showers. Now, this is--you learn very fast. You don't use the restroom, you don't drink water, you don't think anything without asking the drill instructor first. You don't move. You stand at attention until the drill instructors tell you to do anything differently. So as they got us in the squad bay, they got this line that goes down on both sides of the squad bay where we got footlockers, you got all that. So when they get us in the squad bay, the drill instructors give us--well, the senior drill instructor is the senior guy of this whole drill instructor team, and it was three drill instructors, counting the senior drill instructor. So he gives us a spiel that he's going to be our mother, he's going to be our father, he's going to take care of us for the next 13 weeks; you don't breathe, you don't eat, you don't do this, you don't do that until you ask us; and if you do it any other way, you're going to have hell to pay. So the senior drill instructor tells the drill instructors "Turn 2." "Turn 2" means that when hell break out. So they had these big soapy trash--big trash cans with hot soapy water, so they threw it down through the middle of the squad bay. The footlockers, they had us dump all our gear in to the footlockers; all our shaving gear, cleaning gear, everything; to the footlockers, they started turning the footlockers over with all our gear in it. And we had bunks, you had a top bunk and bottom bunk. So they took the mattresses off of them. I mean, they just tore up the whole squad bay. So, you know what we had to do? Clean the whole squad bay. That took hours to unscrew the squad bay. And then it's late at night, so you're getting into that early morning. So you finally get a chance to go to sleep, like, 1 a.m. in the morning, just to get woken back up by the drill instructors the next day. And, now, imagine this too; when you go to sleep, you sleep at attention throughout the night. And if you didn't sleep at attention, we had recruits what we used to call "Fire Watchers." That was to--we rotated every four hours and we'll walk around the squad bay to make sure everybody was sleeping at attention.$$Now, how do you sleep at attention? Do you--$$You sleep at attention just like (laughs)--$$You lay down and--$$You lay down just like if you were standing at attention, you lay at attention.$$And you sleep at attention?$$And you sleep at attention.$$And every night, prior to us going to sleep, the drill instructors used to make us count off, and then we sung the Marines hymn every night, then they would tell you to get in the rack, attack. And when they say attack, you jump in the rack and you jump at attention in the rack. Then they say, "Goodnight, Chesty Puller." That was one of our famous Marine heroes, Chesty Puller. So you used to say, "Goodnight, Chesty Puller, wherever you are." (laughs). And then the lights go off, and then they say, "Sleep." The drill instructors say sleep. So the Fire Watchers walk around at night, and if you weren't at the position of attention, you got woken up. They say, "Get at attention." And then the next day the same thing happened, a day after day where the drill instructors came in--and this happened, like, the first week of training--this was the breakdown period, you know, where they got you out of your whole way of life that you'd had been--they build you up as a team because they want to get you out of, you know, the areas--like me, I came from South Memphis, I had a different attitude; you got people from New York, down in Georgia. So they wanted to get you out of your mindset that you had grew for the last 17, 18 years and put you into the Marine Corps mindset as working as a team. So that every morning for the first week, they would come down, wake us up. When the lights come on, you better be on that line at attention, and then you count off so they make sure all the recruits are there. You count off one by one. And then this hot, soapy water, trash cans come back down through the squad bay, and you clean it up again. Then you go to--then they march you to eat in the morning, and the crazy thing about that, the first week when we grab our trays to go through the chow line, the drill instructor would tell you what to get and what not to get. So you didn't have much food on your plate. So for the first week when we sit down to take a bite, at each meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they'll let the food get on your lips, and then they'll tell you, "You're done. Get out." And I'm like, "whoa." I mean, that's a breaking period. And we had some recruits, that first week they were done. They were done. So that's how they start building the team.$Okay. So, 2007, you're nominated to become the 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.$$Yes.$$And succeeding Sergeant Major John L. Estrada.$$Estrada, yes. African-American.$$Okay. All right. So, well, now, this is the second time you'd been interviewed for this position, right? And so what happened this second time?$$The second time when I went in, I flat out--and quite naturally, I as planning on, you know, retiring in 2008; that was the plan. But, when I got the call I was totally shocked, to be honest with you. I thought I had passed up on my only chance, but I was okay not being the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, because I had felt that, I mean, it was just an honor to be able to serve with all these Marines over my--back then it was 31 years or so. So I was just honored to be able to do that. So, you know, being a Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps would have been an honor, but I was okay, you know, retiring in 2008. So when I got the call, I felt I was truly blessed at that time to be a second time around. And, plus, I was blessed because the Commandant at that time, General [James] Conway, was also the Commanding General when I was the I MEF [I Marine Expeditionary Force] Sergeant Major; so we had a common bond, and we knew each other, and my wife [Elizabeth Kent] knew his wife very well. So that was--we were blessed on that part. But it was no guarantee during the interview that I was going to be the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps or he was going to pick me, and I knew that that. So when I walked in, I mean, during the interview process, I mean, it went very well. About a week later, I get a call from his office saying, "Hey, are you available because the Commandant and his wife is flying out to California and they want to take ya'll out to dinner?" So I thought to myself, I said, "Okay. It's a couple of things here: one, I'm going home 2008 and I'm okay with that or he's going to ask me to be the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps," you know, me and my wife, Liz. And when he came out there, we went to dinner; had a great dinner, and he looked at my wife (laughs), because spouses run the household, and we already know that. We can pretend like we're in charge, but we're not. So he looked at Liz and he said, "Liz, what do you think about coming back to [Washington] D.C., you know, and joining us?" And I'm, like, "Wow." So, I mean, that was--that was a great night for us, and it was a great tour being a Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, because instead of doing it at those levels, taking care of Marines, Sailors, and families at the level I just told you about; Battalion, you know, you go to Regiment, you go to Division, you go to MEF; now, I have an opportunity to take care of Marines throughout the whole Marine Corps and Sailors and their family. And my wife, Liz, she's a great teammate of mine. And she love families, so it was just a joy for us for four and a half years to go around the Marine Corps and talk to Marines, Sailors, families, and see what their issues are. And the Commandant, we traveled around together with him and his wife. The present Commandant that's serving right now, General [James F.] Amos and his wife, and Liz; I spent nine months once the previous Commandant, the 34th Commandant transitioned, the 35th Commandant, he asked me to stay on. So I stayed on for nine months with him, and it was an honor to serve with him also, because both of them are superb leaders and they care about people, and that's what makes it special.