SHOALWATER BAY, Australia - He may barely be past his teen years, but Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Theodore Kavich, a fire team leader with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit here, is responsible for the management and care of three Marines in his squad.
Outside the Marine Corps, not many 20-year-olds bear the burden of leadership, especially in matters as serious as combat.
“I just got out of my teenage years, and here I am directing my Marines in things like response to enemy contact,” said Kavich, a native of Pasadena, Calif. “Having this responsibility at the age of 20 is not only an honor, but a welcomed challenge.”
Kavich grew up listening to battle stories told by his grandfather, a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Regaled with these tales, he entered adulthood knowing that if he joined the Corps, it would be as an infantryman.
“Joining the Marine Corps was something I always had in my mind, but I didn’t want to join fresh out of high school,” Kavich said. “I wanted to come in with a little experience.” So after graduating from high school at 17, he went to college for two years and gained some life experience. When he figured he had gone to college long enough and before he missed any opportunities, he enlisted at 19 years of age.
His first assignment, after infantry school, was to his current unit -- 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Kavich’s potential for leadership was recognized immediately.
“When he first came to the unit, he took the initiative to help other Marines and get things done,” said squad leader Marine Corps Cpl. Moses Weaver. “For those reasons, I put him in the fire team leader position, and he caught right on. Whatever task I gave him, he took care of it right there.”
One year later, Kavich finds himself in Australia on his second deployment with the 31st MEU. He leads his fire team in preparation for an attack during Exercise Hamel 2012, the multi-national training evolution between the Marines of the 31st MEU and the Australian and New Zealand armies.
“That little time he spent between high school and joining the Marine Corps gave him a little time as an adult, which shows in how he leads us,” said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jonathan Munday, a member of Kavich’s fire team. “He’s not a leader that dictates; he works with us and listens to any ideas we may have and implements them into his plans if he thinks it’s necessary. We’re very confident following his lead.”
The Marine Corps places the responsibility of leadership and expectations of sound judgment on young Marines. Kavich said, noting that was part of the attraction for him.
“You join the Marine Corps knowing there’s a near-guarantee you will be deployed,” he said. “That attracts the people who are up for the challenge, especially of becoming an infantryman, regardless of their age. They feel they are ready for whatever is to be expected of them.”
As for the future, Kavich said, he will see how the rest of his initial contract will play out. But those in his fire team say his leadership traits could take him far if he were to continue his service.
“When he gives an order, there’s no questioning it,” Munday said. “He knows what he’s doing, is confident in that decision and has our interests in mind when making it.” Some Marines need to lead for years to develop those traits, he added, but Kavich already grasps them.
Exercise Hamel 2012 is a certification exercise for the Australian army’s 1st Brigade. Marines are acting as the opposition force for the Australians, bringing a unique set of tactics to the training environment.
The 31st is the only continuously forward-deployed Marine expeditionary unit.