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Cool, calm DI 'thrived on playing hard': San Diego drill instructors remember

By Cpl. Derrick A. Small | | March 04, 2005

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Training men into America's most elite fighting force in seven 13-week cycles, Staff Sgt. Brian D. Bland, 26, made quite an impression on Company I drill instructors before he returned to the infantry. Today, those DIs lament his loss. A mortarman with Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Bland, from Westion, Wyo., died Jan. 26 alongside 30 other Marines who lost their lives in a helicopter accident near Ar Rutbah, Iraq. He is survived by his wife and mother. MEU officials said the Marines who died were veterans of numerous firefights and had fought valiantly during the multi-national force's battle for the hostile city of Fallujah. Reports of such gallantry did not surprise Bland's DI comrades in San Diego. They said "Super" Bland, as they called him, was a far superior Marine among his band of brothers. He was also a humble overachiever. "I knew him as the 'go-to Marine,'" said Capt. Peter Dahl, a former series commander with Company I. "At the time, he was only a sergeant, but he was just as good, if not better than most of his peers."Third Bn. routing chief Gunnery Sgt. Dwight Maloy said the Marine Corps hates to lose Marines like Bland, one of superb conduct. "He basically set the tempo for his company and the battalion," Maloy said. A good performer, Bland earned a spot as an Officer Candidate School DI, an opportunity only outstanding leaders in excellent physical condition earn, said Maloy. According to Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Sonsini, senior drill instructor at the receiving barracks and formerly with Co. I, Bland was respected because he cared more about the overall outcome, rather than his own personal achievement. "He was always thinking of ways to make his platoon better. But it didn't stop there," Sonsini said. "He wanted to make the company and the battalion better too because he was proud to be a part Co. I." In a contrasting manner, fellow Marines viewed Bland in different ways, but results were always similar. "He was very energetic and always on the move," said 1st Sgt. Dathan Edwards, Co. I first sergeant. "He was very eager to lead and always lead from the front." "He wasn't as intense as some of the other DIs," Sonsini said. "He was cool, calm and collected. He was relaxed. To him everything had to be smooth. Being calm made him accomplish everything he did. Though he was calm, recruits and Marines alike still listened and did what he said." Bland was also referred to as "the Green Belt Champion," because he was a difficult wrestling opponent. "He thrived on playing hard and being tough," Sonsini said. "I never saw signs of weakness. I never saw him sweat, but then again, we didn't drink much water," he laughed. Bland was also known for his sharp and well tailored uniform, which seemed almost perfect at times, Sonsini said. "One time we had to be in Service 'A' uniform immediately, but Bland wasn't worried," Sonsini recalled. "All the rest of us had our Alphas in the little plastic that you get from the cleaner, but Bland simply pulled his Alphas out of a sea bag and shook them out. What was surprising is that all his ribbons were in place and the uniform looked like it came out of the cleaners." To Marines, Bland exemplified perseverance by continuously setting high standards for himself and those he led, Sonsini said. "Bland's life represents never settling for less because he always wanted to take things to the next level," he said. Co. I leaders said they are planning to honor Bland with a memorial inside 3rd Battalion headquarters.

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