Sergeant major and son join forces in Afghanistan for second time
by Staff Sgt. Andrew Miller 1st MarDiv
CAMP DWYER, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Some fathers teach their sons how to throw a ball and others show their sons how to fish. Sgt. Maj. Ernest Hoopii, Regimental Combat Team 5 sergeant major, taught his son how to be a Marine.
Lance Cpl. Sean Hoopii, a fire team leader with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, is currently serving alongside his father for the second time in southern Helmand province.
Pictured: CAMP DWYER, Helmand province, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines Sgt. Maj. Ernest Hoopii, Regimental Combat Team 5 sergeant major, poses with his son Lance Cpl. Sean Hoopii, a fireteam leader with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, here August 30. The Hoopiis are currently serving their second tour to Afghanistan together.
The sergeant major explained that his son is a third generation Marine on both sides of the family.
“I’m a Marine, my father was a Marine, his mom’s dad was a Marine, her brother was a Marine,” he said. “So he was just destined to be a Marine.”
The younger Hoopii said seeing the strong bond that Marines share and the way they take care of one another is why he ultimately decided to join the Corps.
“I’ve been around the Marine Corps all my life, it’s all I knew. I remember one of my dad’s former Marines... passed away in Ramadi [Iraq], and we went up to his funeral, and I saw the brotherhood,” he recalled. “I remember seeing that funeral, seeing all his fellow Marines who came... I remembered that brotherhood, and I ended up joining.”
Though cut from the same cloth, the younger Hoopii offers, by his account, the more accurate picture of their roles in the RCT.
“He handles the bigger picture of making the political aspect of this work, and I make people act accordingly,” he said. “I’m the gunfighter, dad’s the politician.”
Although most parents worry about sending their son or daughter into a combat zone, the father and son duo have been in this business for a while and do not share that same mentality.
“It is comforting for me to know my son is in my chain of command where I have some overwatch,” said the sergeant major. “I am luckier than most parents will ever be, you know, I’m on the same battlefield with my son. As a matter of fact, we joke that we spend more time together in Afghanistan than we do at home.”
Levity aside, this pair of Marines has spent quite a bit of time in Afghanistan. They are each currently serving their third tour of duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Last year I saw him on Christmas day from about 300 meters away,” the sergeant major said. “He was the tallest kid around so I just knew it was him; and the next time we would see each other was at the fight for Marjah.”
This particular meeting during the Marine offensive in Marjah in early 2010 was chronicled by author and former Marine, Bing West, in his most recent work, The Wrong War.
West was traveling with the elder Hoopii in southern Helmand province during his time as the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade sergeant major. The sergeant major and Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, 2nd MEB commanding general, were attending a shura with the new district governor of Marjah.
“We are all Taliban here,” an elder said. “You represent a corrupt and murderous government. I’ll give you a chance. But if you betray me, I’ll kill you and your entire family.”
The meeting quickly broke up and Taliban in a nearby tree line opened fire. As rounds pinged into the dirt, the sergeant major rushed forward, shouting and thrusting Marines into fighting positions. Suddenly, a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back.
“Dad,” Lance Cpl. Sean Hoopii said, “I got it.”
A sergeant major plays an intricate part in the decision making process for an RCT, and many times those decisions include placing Marines in harm’s way in order to accomplish the mission.
“My son is a Marine… we’ve all got a mission to do. He’s going to do his mission, his unit is going to do its mission, that’s what we do,” the sergeant major said. “It’s a tough job for tough guys. My decisions are made for the sole purpose of accomplishing the overall mission of the Marine Corps out here.”
Even though he has to make tough calls that could potentially affect his son, the elder Hoopii still takes time to pass on bits of wisdom gained during his 27 years of experience in the Corps.
“Every time I come out here my father tells me to watch my feet, watch my step,” said Sean. “From time to time I still notice myself looking where I walk because he taught me to. Everyone I meet knows my father and respects him as much as I do because they know he came from the same community of warfighters.”
Soon the younger Hoopii hopes to earn a spot in the Corps’ prestigious Force Reconnaissance community. As for the elder Hoopii, he is just glad to get back to his roots as the sergeant major of a regimental combat team.
“I love my family, I love my country and I love the Corps,” he said. “I am glad I’ve got this opportunity to be back at the front with my Marines and my son.”
Editor’s Note: RCT-5 is currently assigned to 2nd Marine Division (Forward) which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.