By Dave Burge, El Paso Times
Joint Task Force North
Sgt. Maj. Aaron G. McDonald is the first Marine to serve as the command’s senior enlisted leader in its 28-year history.
McDonald, who took over the job on Friday, joins Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager, the first woman to command Joint Task Force North. Yeager took command of the counter-drug task force in September.
“It is humbling to have the opportunity to come here and represent my service,” said McDonald, a 40-year-old from Duncanville, Texas.
“The Marine Corps is the smallest branch in the Department of Defense; we probably have the smallest footprint inside the joint service,” he said. “To actually sit at the command level and advise the commanding general and lead soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and members of the Coast Guard, it is definitely an honor.”
Joint Task Force North has a staff of about 150 service members of all branches and civilian employees. The organization provides Department of Defense support to federal law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations.
Most recently, McDonald served as the regimental sergeant major for the Marine Raider Regiment at Camp Lejeune, N.C. His background is as an infantryman.
McDonald said he is still in the “feeling-out stage” and hasn’t come into his new job with any preconceived ideas.
“I’ve come in with eyes wide and ears open and listening,” he said.
McDonald has an affinity for being a mentor and wants to share the knowledge he has gained during a 22-year career.
“Every service has the same mantra when you get to this seat, whether I am wearing this uniform or another uniform. When you sit behind that desk, your responsibility is the people of this command,” McDonald said.
McDonald is a big proponent of lifelong learning and is an avid reader with one wall of his new office filled with books.
One initiative he plans to start is to bring in guest speakers of different backgrounds to speak to the members of the organization.
“I am a huge believer in knowledge and the constant pursuit of knowledge, reading books, listening to TED Talks,” he said.
As a native Texan, his new assignment has the feel of a homecoming to it, even though El Paso and his native East Texas have vastly different cultures and terrain.
“Texas hospitality is always unique to the rest of the country,” McDonald said. “It is good to be back and be closer to home and see a lot of things I am familiar growing up with – smaller restaurants and some good Tex-Mex. You can’t get that anywhere else in the country.”
McDonald has never served at Fort Bliss before, but is looking forward to exploring the area.
“This is a dream,” McDonald said of his new job. “There were multiple people who submitted within the Marine Corps for this job. I was fortunate to be the Marine Corps nominee for this job.”
Like most Marines, he is motivated by a desire to uphold the service’s strong tradition.
“You don’t ever want to let down the Marines who came before you or tarnish their names,” he said.
Yeager, the commanding general for Joint Task Force North, said McDonald brings a “wealth of experience.”
“I cherish his leadership experience and his operational experience,” she said.
David Burge may be reached at 546-6126; firstname.lastname@example.org; @dburge1962 on Twitter.
Sgt. Maj. Aaron G. McDonald
Education: Bachelor’s degree in management from American Military University; master’s in strategic leadership from the University of Charleston.
Awards: Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device; Meritorious Service Medal (two awards); Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device (three awards); Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (two awards); Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards).