“BULL” : A TRIBUTE TO A HEROIC MENTOR
As a young Marine Corps officer serving as a Rifle Platoon Commander operating in the jungles of Panama in support of OPERATION JUST CAUSE (Removal of the Dictator Manuel Noriega), I was fortunate and honored to receive the mentorship of an incredible senior offer, Major Martin R. Berndt.
Major Berndt led by example in keeping with his personal motto: “selfless service to others,” shared his many lessons learned from his own experiences as a Rifle Platoon Commander in the jungles of Vietnam, and enjoyed referring to me as “Bull.”
In addition to proactively making time to provide counseling and guidance, Major Berndt was also responsible for reviewing and commenting on my fitness reports. He wrote:
As the Executive Officer of the Marine Forces Panama at the time, I had the opportunity to observe him on a daily basis.
I found Lt Gurfein an intense, mature officer who excelled in a low-intensity conflict environment. Forceful, deliberate, yet understanding.
His enthusiasm and excitement spread to his men because of his confident and outgoing personality: his men enjoyed his leadership.
Later as a Lieutenant Colonel, and my Battalion Commander, he wrote:
…Gurfein must be occasionally restrained from tackling every available task.
A “Bull” Lieutenant who is an absolute pleasure to serve with.
After a distinguished 36 years of service, he retired as a Lieutenant General. Of his many accomplishments, LtGen. Berndt led the 1995 rescue of U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady, who ejected over Bosnia when his jet was shot down. Despite retiring from the Marine Corps LtGen. Berndt continued to work as a mentor and consultant, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Korea, until he was diagnosed with cancer. On Aug. 17, 2011, LtGen. Berndt died.
Although I lost a heroic mentor, the nickname he bestowed upon me 25 years ago stayed with me throughout my career in the Marine Corps and beyond.
In remembrance of LtGen. Berndt’s selfless service; insightful and memorable guidance; and fun, empathetic, and humble leadership, I proudly maintain and cherish my nickname, “Bull,” as I continually attempt to emulate the way he lived his life to the fullest and the way he cared for others.
Thank you LtGen. Berndt. Rest in peace.