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Marine on The Waterfront: Leadership is Essential
US Marine Corps | Apr. 18, 2023
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP ELMORE, VA.: Marine Corps commissioned officers have the opportunity to lead and create an ever-lasting impact on Marines. For U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Nikolas Applegate, an adjutant with Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, Marine Forces Command, Marine Forces Northern Command, Headquarters and Service Battalion, he learned early in his career that leadership is not one size fits all and that leadership grows over time.
Applegate’s leadership style growing up was ‘from the front.’ This is from Applegate’s upbringing in Phoenix, Arizona where he was head of the household with two other siblings and a single mother. Additionally, he was team captain on all extracurricular activities.
“In my four years of high school, I was team captain in wrestling, track and lead lifeguard,” Applegate reflected, “I was also an administrative manager for Coca-Cola.” His upbringing gave him the confidence to naturally guide others, so when Applegate attended Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia in 2017, he felt prepared for commissioning.
“What I learned from this is that leadership isn't about changing others, it's about bringing out the best in them and you are there to guide them if they are willing.” Capt. Nikolas Applegate, an adjutant with Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, Marine Forces Command, Marine Forces Northern Command, Headquarters and Service Battalion
When asked why he commissioned, Applegate replied, “I commissioned because I wanted to lead.” Leading from the front came natural to Applegate, but he knew the Marine Corps would challenge him to lead in uncomfortable environments due to the organization’s expeditionary ethos supporting austere environments —from air, land, sea, and forward bases.
He also noted that the Marine Corps does not acquire certain leaders for commissioning, but rather offers the necessary tools to lead in the best version of themselves.
The mission of OCS is to educate and train candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and tools for leadership, moral, mental, and physical qualities. At this point, Applegate began to realize leading is much more than a type of confidence but also the willingness to serve others and work as a team for a common mission.
“I went into OCS sort of arrogant, but came out humbled, ready to lead in the best way possible.”
In 2019, he arrived at his first duty station as the squadron adjutant for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 214 and 211, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Yuma, Arizona. Applegate’s tasks as an adjutant included assisting the squadron commanders by monitoring critical administrative support requested by higher headquarters. This also gave Applegate the opportunity to be involved with enlisted Marines.
Applegate enjoyed his responsibilities as a squadron adjutant, formulating and supervising the execution of command administrative policies. Additionally, he found a passion for mentorship. So, when a Marine in his squadron was on the fast track for separation, Applegate took the Marine in for guidance.
“The Marine didn't want to be a Marine, and I tried consistently to lead them and develop them into the person they didn't want to be,” Applegate said, “I took on the sense of failure when the Marine was administratively-separated.”
The Marine’s separation felt like a personal responsibility and a failure on his own leadership style. Applegate struggled months following the Marine’s separation, questioning what he could have done better to develop the person as a better Marine and guide them into a successful career.
“What I learned from this is that leadership isn't about changing others, it's about bringing out the best in them and you are there to guide them if they are willing.”
Now stationed at MARFORCOM HQSVN as the battalion adjutant, he looks forward to guiding and mentoring more Marines. Applegate intends to stay in and prepare for leadership responsibilities for future assignments.
“I started to realize that I will never be ready for where I am going…to take on the responsibilities of the billet seats higher than me,” he reflected, “Failure is inevitable, and that's okay to acknowledge.”
Applegate encourages other Marines to trust the process of leadership development through discipline, a sense of duty, courage, confidence, and comradeship. Failure is part of that process as well, but learn from it .