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Sgt. Kurtis Bellmont, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiement, looks over his Marines while in the field in Bridgeport, Calif. Bellmont, a three-time Iraq veteran, draws from his experiences as pointman, fire team leader, squad leader, platoon sergeant and platoon commander to lead his Marines on and off the battlefield.

Photo by Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill

3/7 platoon sergeant draws from three combat tours to lead Devil Dogs

5 Oct 2006 | Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill

After spending nearly half of his Marine Corps career in Iraq during three combat tours, a 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment platoon sergeant draws from his leadership roles at each level to take charge and lead his Marines.Sgt. Kurtis R. Bellmont, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3/7, is one of only three Marines to remain with 3/7 since the initial push to Baghdad in 2003. He began his time with 3rd Platoon as a pointman and moved up to fire team leader, squad leader and now as platoon sergeant, has also served as platoon commander. Only recently promoted to the rank of sergeant, Bellmont accomplished all of this as a corporal.After enlisting in the Marine Corps in February 2002, Bellmont attended the School of Infantry and was selected for and passed the grueling Marine Corps reconnaissance indoctrination test. But while training at the Amphibious Reconnaissance School in Norfolk, Va., he broke his leg and was sent as a rifleman to 3/7.Soon after, Bellmont found himself in Iraq. He was promoted to lance corporal en route to Baghdad in April 2003. As a pointman, he was kicking down doors and thriving on the adrenaline that comes with it.“I was a little nervous about being pointman, until I experienced the rush of entering a building and not knowing what was going to be on the other side and knowing there is a Marine coming right behind you,” said Bellmont, a 24-year-old Cold Spring, Minn., native.“We were going through an Iraqi Army brigade compound and we’re thinking there were going to be 6,000 Iraqis against a battalion of Marines,” he continued. “Basically, none of us knew what we were going in to. We started kicking in doors and another Marine and I would argue over who was going to be pointman because we both loved it so much.”After he returned in September 2003 from deployment, the battalion was just coming off their 30 days of combat leave when they were told they would be deploying again in four months.He moved on to become a fire team leader for his second tour. His team was ordered to provide ground security for a sniper team during a mission. That morning, five planned attacks were carried out against 3/7 Marines and one of the snipers Bellmont was with took four bullet wounds to his leg.Bellmont immediately took charge and made arrangements for a medical evacuation of the Marines while applying life-saving first aid. His actions that day earned him a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat “V.” His story was also detailed in the bestselling book, The Gift of Valor.“When the snipers were hit, I didn’t understand what was going on and when that was going on, it looked like he didn’t know what he was doing,” said Staff Sgt. Peter “Link” Milinkovic, platoon commander, 1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3/7. “But in reality, he was running the show on the ground and really took charge. He saved that Marine’s life and read the situation. He called for a medical evacuation and was in control.“In Iraq you can be thrown with any number of different scenarios and you just have to learn how to react to each one properly,” said Milinkovic, who was a private first class when Bellmont arrived as a private to 3rd Platoon. “He is the kind of leader you want out there in Iraq.”During his 20 collective months in Iraq, Bellmont has not been without close calls.“The very first IED [improvised explosive device] that went off against the battalion in March, I was standing about 15 feet from, but the explosion went more upward than outward,” said Bellmont, who faced another IED less than one month later. “It was one of those days where we knew something bad was going to happen. Our mission was to walk right down Main Street and we all kind of said our goodbyes to one another.“We’re walking out and I had this gut feeling to walk on the right side of the formation, but I usually walk on the left. I have no idea why,” said Bellmont. “When the IED went off, the Marine who swapped places with me took shrapnel in his face. I was behind a Humvee when it detonated so I was safe.”April 8, 2004, proved to be especially perilous for 3/7 when six IEDs were detonated against them. Bellmont said one Marine died, and only 33 of 42 Marines returned unscathed after going out that morning.Bellmont also earned a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with combat “V” after coming to the aid of his fellow Marines and sailors when IEDs destroyed two Humvees driving in front of him.But through these incidents and his time overseas, Bellmont said he really began to see the bigger picture of how to take care of his Marines as a fire team leader. To him, leading and managing Marines was a simple formula.“As a fire team leader, you have three guys who you take care of,” he said. “As a squad leader, you have three fire team leaders to take care of. Yes, you have 12 guys, but your three squad leaders you trust to take care of their three. As a platoon sergeant, I have three squad leaders I put in that position who I see have those characteristics they need to take care of their guys.”Milinkovic, who saw Bellmont grow as a leader over their four years together with 3/7, said Bellmont was hungry for leadership roles and more responsibility where others may have buckled or shied away. “As a squad leader, I saw his experience really kick in,” said Milinkovic. “Having the pride inside to do that job backed with all that experience. You can’t teach experience in any school and people’s lives depend on that. He’s seen the mistakes first hand when things go wrong.”Although the battalion is still receiving Marines in preparation for their fourth deployment to Iraq next year, Milinkovic said Bellmont’s appointment to platoon sergeant and platoon commander as a corporal was because of his passion and effectiveness as a leader of Marines.“A Marine could follow you because you have a rocker on your chevron or because he sees a passion in you and you motivate him,” he said. “You could do that in your first year in the Marine Corps or it may take you until your fifteenth year. Some may never find it in themselves. “Being able to touch a Marine and make him want to follow you is the sign of a good leader,” added Milinkovic. “This guy has proven he cares about them and can lead them.”Bellmont said he loves being at the Combat Center because he goes rock climbing and enjoys summer motor sports year round. But he said he will submit a package to move on to Marine Security Guard duty as 3/7 prepares to go to Iraq again. One of his reasons for staying so long was to ensure his Marines were handed off to a strong leader.“My company does not want me to stick around much because I’ll just stagnate here,” said Bellmont, who has not taken leave to see his family since January. “Now that we have a good staff NCO [noncommissioned officer], I can take some leave and put in my package and I can start my transition.”One of the things Bellmont said he loves most about leading Marines is seeing them come into their own and find their inner strengths.“I love watching Marines grow,” he said. “Every single Marine in the platoon I’ve seen since their arrival to the fleet. They were all scared and they have the new PFC look. Then look at them now.” For those Marines up and coming in leadership roles in the Corps, Bellmont has advice: Trust your Marines and let them make their mistakes.“We’ve all got the same building blocks, they just need help putting them into position,” he said. “Learning to pull back is one of the hardest things to do. All you have to do is help them guide those blocks, but don’t place them for them. Give them enough rope to hang themselves, but have the chair ready when they do.”
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