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U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Anton Arifaj, Career School master faculty advisor, at the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific, speaks on the rewarding values of being a faculty advisor for the SNCOA on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, May 6, 2024. Arifaj, has always had an affinity for teaching and encourages staff non-commissioned officers who want to play a direct role in developing the future leaders of the Marine Corps to become faculty advisors. Fischer is a native of New Jersey. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Maximiliano Rosas)

Photo by Sgt. Maximiliano Rosas

Forging leaders through experience: Gunnery Sgt. Anton Arifaj

16 May 2024 | Sgt. Maximiliano Rosas Marine Corps Installations Pacific

 In an institution built on the pursuit of excellence, U.S. Marines stand apart from members of the other branches by encouraging leadership in not only those in the most senior positions, but also down to each and every junior Marine, building small-unit leadership from their earliest days. As Marines entrust the next generation with leadership roles, this begs the question, if iron sharpens iron, what kind of Marine sharpens another Marine?

U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Anton Arifaj, a low altitude air defense gunner by trade, and the current master faculty advisor for the advanced school at the Camp Hansen Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy, never took the hardships of a challenge as a deterrent. Arifaj said, even before he joined the Marine Corps in 2007, he held such adversities as a prerequisite for everything that he does, and maintains that mentality to this day.

“The Marine Corps presented itself as that challenge,” said Arifaj. “That challenge wasn't going to be easy because every [other armed forces branch] recruiter I had spoken with before was like, ‘Oh, it's so easy, you'll be fine.’”

Arifaj considered joining the armed services from an early age. Seeing the news coverage of Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War in the early 90’s had pushed him in the direction of the armed forces recruiting offices.

“Different from the other recruiters, the Marine Corps recruiter presented it like hey, it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be hard. You are going to have to physically work for it,” said Arifaj. “Just that fear of thinking that maybe I won't make it through recruit training. That was a deciding factor for me to be like, yeah, I want to be a U.S. Marine.”

Throughout his career in the Marine Corps Arifaj said he did not shy away from adding onto his plate. He hungered for leadership roles that would not only challenge himself, but also leave a lasting impression on the Corps. So, he became a drill instructor, then a recruiter, honing his leadership, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills, while seeing the full journey of a Marine’s transformation from civilian to service member.

“As a drill instructor, I had to go two or three levels deep into the people I was working with, to figure out who they were, and that's the same thing you have to do with students,” said Arifaj. “... you have to figure out how they can actually learn, and then how they can apply what I'm teaching them to their everyday life.”

Arifaj had always been keen to the learning environment. Being a lifelong learner and with an affinity for teaching, he said he had considered being a teacher as an alternative career path. This love of academia and the tools he gained from his time as a recruiter pushed him to be a quality instructor in front of large crowds.

“Recruiting taught me resilience,” he said. “As a recruiter, if you ever had any issues with public speaking, those go away, at least after the first year.”

Recruiting duty primed him to ask for orders as a faculty advisor at the SNCOA on Okinawa.

“Coming here was one of the only times I've ever asked the Marine Corps,” said Arifaj. “I remember starting school, seeing the instructors and thinking to myself: ‘I could do that, and I want to do that.’ Having the ability to teach is what gravitated me to this. I love teaching and I love seeing people learn.”

Through his hard work and dedication to the growth and guidance of new leaders Arifaj was able to rise through the ranks at the SNCOA from starting out as a faculty advisor to now holding the position of master faculty advisor, he has managed to leave his lasting impression on the Corps as well as individual leaders graduating from the SNCOA. “If you present yourself as somebody who's open to assistance and open to giving advice and career guidance then Marines are going to come back to you,” said Arifaj. “It's just presenting yourself as someone who can assist and wants to assist as well, not only from a Marine Corps perspective, but also from a personal perspective.”