Quantico Officer Becomes Lieutenant General

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After only five months as a two-star general, Lt. Gen. Ronald Coleman, deputy commandant for Manpower Reserve Affairs, was pinned with a third star Friday, November 3rd in a promotion ceremony at The Clubs At Quantico’s ballroom.


More than 400 family members, friends and colleagues filled the room to capacity to witness the monumental event. Coleman is the second African American Marine to reach the rank of lieutenant general in the Marine Corps. Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen (ret.), the first African American Marine to reach the rank of lieutenant general, was on hand along with Coleman’s wife, Jane, to help pin Coleman’s stars on.


With 32 years of service and three more to go until retirement, Coleman never would have guessed that he was going to make a career of the Corps when he was commissioned in 1974.


“I feel honor and more awe than anything. I have been fortunate and blessed. That’s what this is all about, timing and people having faith and confidence in me,” Coleman said.


Life in the Corps was good for Coleman, but it was somewhat disconcerting not to have many other African American Marines to identify with.


“It was tough in the beginning not having senior Black officers to look up to,” Coleman said. “But that helped broaden my view about people.”


A broader view of people with diverse backgrounds, coupled with a lack of fear about asking questions or making mistakes, helped catapult Coleman through the ranks, but not without the help of mentors along the way.


 “Gen. (Walter) Gaskin, Gen. (Clifford) Stanley, as well as Staff Sgt. (Alford) McMichael, who later became Sgt. Maj. McMichael and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, helped me tremendously,” 60-year-old Coleman said.


Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen, one of Coleman’s mentors, not only gave him advice over the years, but attended the promotion ceremony with a special purpose -- pinning on the third star.


“I think everyone, White or Black, looks up to him,” Coleman said. “One of the first things he ever did was ask me what he could do for me,” Coleman remembered. “He’s been a giver all his life and I am humbled and honored that he would do this for me in his uniform. It makes me feel good.”


With five daughters and three granddaughters Coleman said it’s too early to feel any pressure about his new status because the promotion is surreal.


“I don’t feel any real pressure, because it’s just sinking in,” Coleman said.


He went on to say, “My grandmother, Mae E. Hill, told me to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and that is what I do. I try to give my Marines space to do what they have to do. I’d rather have to pull someone back than push them ahead.”


Coleman applies that philosophy to his everyday life and it shows in the way he treats the Marines who work for him. Capt. Rhonda Martin, aide de camp to Coleman, believes his philosophy makes him easy to work for.


“He is a compassionate leader and I love working for him,” Martin said. “I don’t mind working long hours and I feel blessed to work with him, because he makes me want to excel. He allows you to be yourself and believes every Marine is worth serving.”


During the promotion ceremony, before the actual pinning, retired Lt. Gen. Henry Osman fondly spoke of Coleman’s accomplishments.


“[Coleman] is the kind of guy who does his job without a lot of fanfare,” Osman said. “He did incredible work in Iraq. He built a facility from scratch to repair gear damaged in the war. I was amazed at what he’d done. You couldn’t find anyone better suited to be the deputy of Manpower and Reserve Affairs.”


For Coleman, one other mission he considers to be a highlight of his career was providing relief efforts in Haiti as the commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force.


“Helping the people of a country in turmoil was one of the greatest satisfactions I have ever felt in my entire life,” Coleman said.


After Coleman was pinned by both his wife and mentor, he made a short speech and expressed the gratitude he felt to his family for their support by giving his wife, daughters and granddaughters bouquets of fresh flowers. “What I am most proud of is my wife and family,” Coleman said as he presented his family with the flowers.


Coleman plans to retire in three years and has his sights set on working with young people. “My ideal job would be a position that allows me to work with the youth,” he said. “If I can do that I’d be happy.”

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