CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, JAPAN -- Motor Transportation is one of the biggest and most important occupational specialties in the Marine Corps. Each year, Headquarters Marine Corps selects the top-performing Marines in the field for special recognition of their efforts.
The 2020 Marine Corps Motor Transportation Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) of the Year is Sgt. Harris P. Lacanilao of 3rd Transportation Support Battalion (TSB), Combat Logistics Regiment 3, 3rd Marine Logistics Group.
“I was well-rounded by good NCOs… they built me up, taught me all the knowledge I have, and now I am about to share all that I can with my junior Marines,” said Lacanilao shortly after receiving the award.
Lacanilao, originally from the Philippines, comes from a large family. The youngest of five, Lacanilao knew from a young age that he wanted to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps and join the Marine Corps someday. When he turned 18 he moved in with his older brother in Hawaii and shortly after, he decided to find the nearest recruiter and sign up.
“Growing up and seeing their accomplishments, their sacrifices and service to the Corps motivated me and made me choose to serve and become a United States Marine,” explained Lacanilao.
Lacanilao’s first duty station brought him to Okinawa to serve with “The Roughriders” of 3rd TSB. The mission of 3rd TSB is to provide transportation and support for III Marine Expeditionary Force and facilitate the distribution of personnel, equipment, and supplies by air, land, and sea. He has been serving with 3rd TSB for 6 years, beginning as a private first class and promoting all the way up to his present rank of sergeant.
“I was blessed to have amazing NCOs, Staff NCOs and officers,” said Lacanilao, “they trusted me, they were confident in my skills, and they really took the time to teach, lead, and get me to where I am right now.”
For Lacanilao, his experiences alongside his peers shaped his leadership style as he rose through the ranks and became an NCO with added responsibilities of his own.
“When I was first promoted to corporal, I had the ‘bulldog’ hardcore mindset like all my prior NCOs and I wanted to be like them,” Lacanilao said, “That changed very quickly. I understood life here at 3rd TSB as a junior Marine. It’s always early mornings, late nights, hard work, and stress. I understood where they were coming from and I knew what they needed in me wasn’t a ‘bulldog,’” explained Lacanlao.
A typical day as an automotive maintenance technician involves servicing, inspecting, maintaining, and repairing every type of vehicle motor transportation Marines use. Marines within this military occupational specialty are challenged with meeting the demands of a high-operational tempo, and quick turn-around times required to efficiently repair and operate vehicles in support of the many training exercises, missions, and deployments taking place in the Indo-Pacific region – rain or shine.
For this reason, Lacanilao believes that commitment is the most important trait a leader can possess.
“If you’re going to show up to your job, and you’re not committed to what you do, then what are you here for? You’re cheating yourself! You have to be committed to your job, your tasks, and most importantly to your Marines. They look up to you, they seek out your guidance, and if you’re not loyal to them and to the mission to mentor them, you’re lost,” Lacanilao said.
The process of being chosen for the Marine Corps Motor Transport NCO of the Year award evaluates the selected Marines’ mission accomplishments, impact of their actions, problem-solving skills, and leadership. After a rigorous selection process by Headquarters Marine Corps, Lacanilao was selected as this year’s winner.
To Lacanilao, the award was a pleasant surprise.
“I don’t think I am any different from my peers. We are all supposed to be leaders and to mentor. On top of that this award is determined by evaluating the eligible Marines throughout the entire Marine Corps, not just Okinawa! I was shocked I actually got it,” said Lacinilao.
For Lacanilao, the honor of winning the award comes from the basics that his leaders ingrained in him from the beginning.
“I don’t do anything special. I do what I am told, when I am supposed to, and I do it right the first time. I think what set me apart and gave me an advantage is my commitment. I am committed to what I do. That’s it.”