FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELHI, Helmand province, Afghanistan
— U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Ryan Gulliksen is goofy.
The proclamation isn’t an outside observation. It’s an insistent confession backed by an animated personality and matching enthusiasm the lieutenant carries into his duties as a logistics officer with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
On deployment in southwest Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Gulliksen spends each of his days supporting the approximately 1,200 Marines and sailors in his battalion.
“I love being a logistician,” said the 26-year-old native of Ormond Beach, Fla., and 2003 graduate of Mainland High School. “It’s completely unrewarding from other people’s perspectives at times, but I affect the lives of every Marine in this battalion, one way or another.”
As the infantrymen of 3/3 patrol Garmsir district, Gulliksen works behind the scenes with a small team of logistics Marines to plan, pick-up and deliver food, fuel, water and ammunition.
“The day I prevent the 19-year-old infantry lance corporal, who is patrolling three times a day and freezing his butt off, from coming home to a warm tent, dry boots and chow, I will put my rank on the battalion commander’s desk because I’ve failed that Marine,” Gulliksen said. “They can shoot, move and communicate for only so long. If I’m not giving them what they need, I haven’t done my job.”
While coordinating the movement of three logistics convoys several times a week, he tracks every piece of gear in the battalion’s battle space, ensuring all equipment is accounted for and functioning properly. He organizes the movement of a wrecker operator when tactical vehicles need service, and employs generator mechanics when the power goes down.
“If a piece of gear breaks or something goes wrong, somebody’s kicking in my door,” Gulliksen said, his eyes wide and hands moving wildly. “When everything is going well, people don’t care, but it’s fine. I’m not the main effort — I’m combat service support.”
True to his unique character, Gulliksen readily, and loudly, proclaims he isn’t the smartest Marine. He’s in a position to give Marines the equipment they need to do their jobs and said he’ll work tirelessly to do just that.
“I can’t express things in words, but give me a bunch of numbers and I’m set,” he said. “I can do trigonometry and calculus in my head, but ask me how to spell ‘ocean,’ and I’ll look at you silly.”
Gulliksen realized his forte as he labored through classes at the University of North Florida to earn a bachelor’s degree in quantitative economics. He paid his way through school by working three jobs, a testament to the work ethic he learned from his mother, a high school teacher who raised three children on her own.
“When we were growing up, my mom did less with more, and it wasn’t the best, but it was exactly what we needed to get by,” Gulliksen said. “She sacrificed everything for her kids, and that’s why we’re successful.”
Gulliksen is honored to make “the smartest lady I’ve ever met” proud by serving in the military alongside his younger brother, an explosive ordnance disposal officer in the U.S. Navy. While learning from a great example, he also grew in the absence of a lesser one.
“My father walked out on us when we were younger,” Gulliksen said. “My brother and I decided that if we’re going to do something, we wanted it to better the people around us.”
Near his college graduation, Gulliksen joined the Marine Corps, completed Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in August 2009. While attending follow-on training at The Basic School in Quantico, Va., he learned he’d been assigned to the logistics field.
The news was disappointing as he had hoped to become an infantry officer. Gulliksen saw the assignment quickly change into “the perfect job” as he began working with other Marines in the logistics field.
“I don’t ever wake up and say, ‘Dang it, I’ve gotta go to work,’” Gulliksen said. “I love my job because of my Marines. They aren’t just men you want to go to war with; they’re people you want to sit around a dinner table with back home.”
As an officer, Gulliksen oversees enlisted Marines, most of whom have served longer in the Marine Corps. He’s friendly and excitable, constantly joking with his men, learning from their experience and building relationships. He said the investment in getting to know his Marines and their backgrounds has led to open communication and a better work environment.
“I know any one of these guys would do anything for me, and I don’t think it’s because I’m a great leader,” Gulliksen said. “I’m not going to be their Gen. Patton, standing in front of a giant American flag, but they believe in my abilities and they know that I care about them.”
The officer assumes a leadership position, but insists his Marines do the leg work.
“I’m very fortunate I work with the Marines I do,” he said. “I do Excel spreadsheets, sit in meetings, look at charts and devise a plan on how to re-supply from A to B. All I need to do is pass them my guidance, give them the end state and they carry out the plan. They’re the ones who make a difference.”
As Marines in Garmsir prepare to transition lead security authority to Afghan forces and the district government, Gulliksen will lead them in the daunting task of redeploying an extensive set of gear back to the U.S. During this period of transition, he’ll also support the consolidation and de-militarization of bases throughout the district.
However challenging his tasks, Gulliksen manages by focusing on his men and thinking of his family. His mother keeps him in check, constantly asking if he’s taking care of his Marines — “or else.”
Tucked inside his Kevlar helmet, Gulliksen carries a folded piece of an American flag that once flew in front of his grandfather’s house alongside the Navy and Marine Corps colors. The small piece of cloth, wrapped in plastic, is a constant reminder of the reason he serves.
“This is the greatest job in the world,” Gulliksen said with a grin. “I don’t look at how many days I have left until I go home; I look at how many days I have left to support my Marines. I’m not just collecting a paycheck… I know I’m making a difference for these guys.”