Face of Defense: Marine Credits Success to Mentorship
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Aug. 14, 2012 – He plays a cat-and-mouse game with explosives for a living, but accepting credit for his achievements makes him shift uneasily in his seat.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christopher P. Lukas, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader with 2nd EOD Company, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, swept the field to receive the Marine Corps Engineer Association’s 2012 EOD Technician of the Year award. It is for “the most outstanding contribution as an EOD Marine,” but Lukas isn’t sure it is solely his to accept.
For him, working with explosives is a family affair.
“We end up closer than brothers because of the way we have to operate in our career field,” said Lukas, who spent his youth traveling as part of a military family. “You basically know what the other individual thinks.”
He credits his achievements to the mentorship of fellow Marines such as Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher West and Gunnery Sgts. Jonathan Key and William Isele. The names, Lukas said, are more than just past mentors -- they reflect how he thinks and who he is as a team leader today.
Their example taught him to step forward while others are backing away, Lukas explained. Leadership at all levels showed him how to think like his opponents and approach each situation with a plan. His leaders, he added, gave him the ability to adapt when the situation changed.
“We rely on each other so much that I think their names need to be on [the award],” said Lukas, struggling to explain why his name came out on top. “I’m not going to sit here and say I deserve something or not. I started out as Gunnery Sergeant Key’s team member for the last deployment, and all I did was what he trained me to do.”
His modest tone hid the fact that Lukas found a calling in the EOD field, which he joined after nearly eight years calibrating and repairing aviation equipment. The lessons of Key, West, Isele and many others found an open mind in Lukas, who claims a desire to learn as one of his greatest strengths.
“At the end of the day, I learned everything I know from those guys,” said Lukas, who found himself a team leader halfway through his last deployment. “The tables have somewhat turned. We’re sitting here, and I’m training some new guys. I continually find myself saying, ‘I learned this from that guy, or I learned that from this guy.’”
All that information came to a crossroads when he took on the role of team leader in Afghanistan, where strategy and the safety of his team members became his top priority. Lukas worked in an area rife with improvised explosive devices. He said he couldn’t turn away when the call to lead came.
“You live with them every day, and get to know their personalities,” said Lukas as he recalled the brotherhood and tragedies that thrust him into a leadership role. “Some of the best moments were just sitting and talking with those guys. Obviously, the worst were whenever someone got hurt.”
Lukas’ leadership responsibilities weighed heavily upon him. He took Key’s example to heart as he led Marines through the IED threats of Afghanistan, where Lukas found himself tempted to take on each hazard his team faced.
“Everybody looks at somebody else and thinks, ‘I could never do that,’” he said. “It basically boils down to your training and the people who are going to teach you what you need to know.”
Every name has a place on that award, Lukas said, adding that he could not do his job without the support of his EOD family in the field, just as he could not do it without the support of his wife and children at home. Each, he said, helped to shape and protect the Marine who received the award.