Retiring Marine sergeant major transitioning to new normal

Sgt. Maj. Johnny Higdon, sergeant major for Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, is preparing to transition into retirement after 30 years of service.

MCLB-ALBANY — Sgt. Maj. Johnny Higdon, a native of Thomasville, has been serving as the sergeant major for Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany since 2017.

When he came to the base, he said his intention was for that assignment to be his last stop. On Sept. 6, he transitions into retirement — and by extension into a new beginning.

The Marines are what he has known for his entire adult life.

“I have been traveling the world for the last 30 years,” Higdon said. “I was able to request my last tour be close to home, so my family could witness it.”

As Higdon works his way toward retirement, Sgt. Maj. Jeff Young is transitioning in to succeed him.

“(The transition) is intense,” Higdon said. “There is no amount of preparation for what is next. This is all I have known my adult life.”

In his role, Higdon has acted as an advisor for the commanding officer of MCLB, Col. Alphonso Trimble, while serving as a mentor to young Marines. While seeking consulting opportunities, the civilian version of his military duties, he has bought a house in metro Atlanta.

“My desire is to get into the consulting side,” Higdon said. “That is what I am leaning my focus on. That is what I have been doing the last 15-20 years.

“The sky is the limit on what I can do.”

In the new house with him will be his wife and three of his five children. Two have recently gone to college, and his youngest is a first-grader.

Higdon said the homecoming he was able to have while in Albany has been satisfying in that his loved ones were able to see and touch what he has been doing over the last three decades rather than read about it in the news.

“My family has been close enough to touch that; they come through the gate and see my name,” Higdon said. “It is definitely worth it to see it in action.

“Rather than read an article, they literally see it.”

When he was a teenager, Higdon said all he knew about the military was the Army. While at a recruiter’s office with a friend, he learned about the Marine Corps.

“As soon as I heard its story, I was hooked,” the sergeant major said.

The deployments and tough deadlines made being a Marine challenging, enough to where there were some close calls on burnout — but with wearing the eagle, globe and anchor, he said, comes the ability to push through.

“It is how we prepare for the challenges in general (that is about what we do in the Corps),” Higdon said.

Making his rank, the highest for enlisted Marines, was something Higdon did not anticipate achieving. That, and making it back safely from a combat tour, are the accomplishments he is most proud of.

Being the colonel’s advisor keeps the pulse moving in making decisions, and the mentorship to young Marines puts them on the right track for promotion.

“(Advisement to the commanding officer) helps him with the decisions he has to make,” Higdon said. “I am his eyes and ears.”

The Marine Corps considers itself a family, so losing the structure associated with that — and his basic wiring as a Marine — is what Higdon said he expects to miss most.

“I will miss the routine of coming here (to MCLB) on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Part of the structure of the Marines is building up leaders, which includes Young — so Higdon said MCLB’s sergeant major role is in good hands.

“The good thing about the Marine Corps is that there is no single point of failure,” Higdon said. “The next person is transitioned up and ready to go.

“If it dies with me, I didn’t do my job right.”

Higdon leaves Albany speaking highly of the city.

“I just appreciate the support,” he said. “My family was embraced and felt at home. We couldn’t have asked for a better place. The city has earned its reputation as the Good Life City.”

Among the opportunities Higdon took advantage of while part of the Corps is educational advancement.

“It can cost you a promotion if you don’t pursue it,” Higdon said. “(I had) pride in personal success, and looked better from a rank standpoint.”

Higdon enlisted in the Marine Corps on Nov. 13, 1989, attending Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. After Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, N.C., he was assigned to Army Air Defense School in Fort Bliss, Texas, as a student at the Marine Corps Detachment where he was trained as a redeye gunner.

In June 1990, upon graduation from Army Air Defense School, Higdon was assigned to 1st Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan — serving as an assistant gunner in a two-man stinger team.

He executed orders in 1991 to 2nd LAAD Battalion in Cherry Point, N.C., receiving an Arctic Service Ribbon for cold weather training during Operation Battle Griffin in Norway. In 1994, he received orders to report for duty to 1st Stinger Battery in Okinawa for a 12-month tour, where he served as team leader.

Higdon returned to MCAS Cherry Point in 1995 and served as section leader and platoon sergeant. In October 1997 he received orders to Marine Corps Recruiter’s School at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

He was assigned to Clarksville, Tenn., as a canvassing recruiter. Higdon then went to Marine Corps Detachment Fort Bliss as a military occupational school instructor. While at Fort Bliss he was promoted to gunnery sergeant and served as the chief instructor, curriculum developer and information assurance manager for the detachment.

In September 2004 he executed orders to 1st Stinger Battery in Okinawa and reported as the company’s gunnery sergeant. After being selected for the rank of first sergeant, he went to the 7th Communications Battalion on Camp Hansen in Okinawa, where he was assigned as the first sergeant for Bravo Company.

Two years later, Higdon was appointed as the first sergeant for Headquarters Company 7th Communication Battalion. In December 2007, Higdon executed orders to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he was assigned to 1st Battalion 2nd Marines as the first sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company.

After completing a tour in Iraq, he was reassigned as the first sergeant for Alpha Company 1st Battalion 2nd Marines. After a few months with Alpha Company, he went to a new assignment as the sergeant major for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron on Marine Corps Air Station New River.

After seven months with Headquarters Squadron, Higdon went to Camp Johnson, N.C., where he served as the company’s first sergeant for Personnel Administration School.

In February 2011, Higdon was promoted to the rank of sergeant major and executed orders to Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron 302 on Marine Corps Air Station New River, where he served as the squadron’s sergeant major.

Higdon was later assigned to 6th Marine Corps Recruiting District to assume duties as the sergeant major of Recruiting Station Baton Rouge in Louisiana. In March 2014, he executed orders to his current unit and assumed duties as inspector-instructor sergeant major for 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Baltimore.

Higdon’s awards and citations include the Meritorious Service Medal gold star in lieu of a second award, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal gold star in lieu of a fourth award, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. He attended Navy Senior Enlisted Academy.

Higdon completed requirements for his bachelor of science degree in computer information system management and holds a master’s degree in computer network security.

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Staff Writer

I'm a 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University, and I've been a reporter for The Albany Herald since 2008. I cover news related to health care, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, SOWEGA Council on Aging and other areas as assigned.

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