12th MCD Marine awarded George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award

December 23, 2019

Marines are no strangers to setting the example on and off the battlefield. One of these individuals is Capt. Richard A. Hayek, an Arlington, Texas native. Throughout his Marine Corps career he has used the lessons he learned to become an exemplary Marine and an inspirational leader.

In recognition of his reputation and notable accomplishments, the USO awarded Hayek with the George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award on Dec. 4, 2019, during the 58th USO Armed Forces Gala and Gold Medal Dinner in New York, New York. But Hayek believes he didn’t earn that award from his merits alone.

The USO recognized Hayek for his initiative and leadership, but also highlighted two distinct moments in his career which affected the lives of many. One of the events took place Dec. 22, 2004, when then Sgt. Hayek served as a security commander during a convoy. This was Hayek’s first deployment to Iraq.

“We were headed south from FOB Al Qa’im headed towards Al Asad,” recalled Hayek. “We saw an orange and white four-door sedan approaching the front of our convoy.”

Hayek and his Marines communicated to the driver using hand and arm signals to move away from the convoy. The sedan began to drift off in a direction seemingly in compliance with their orders, approximately 200 meters off the roadway. But then something changed.

“I’ve been shaped by everybody I’ve ever served with, from Private First Class to the General Officers I’ve worked for, everyone received the award; that’s the way I look at it.” Capt. Richard A. Hayek, Adjutant for 12th Marine Corps District

“Approximately 18 vehicles in is when he made the decision to ram into the side of a 7-ton and detonate his vehicle,” said Hayek. “It was loud enough to hear in my vehicle, and I was a couple hundred meters down the road.”

At this point, Hayek decided to turn his vehicle around to provide support and establish communication at the blast site.

“The standard operating procedure at the time was that if there’s some sort of IED attack, all the vehicles to the rear of the ‘kill zone’ will come up and offer fire support and evacuation for wounded. Everybody to the front of the blast will push up and set up security,” stated Hayek. “I was a squad leader at the time and it felt like my responsibility to be there, instead of setting up a security posture away from the threat.”

When he arrived at the blast site, Hayek and his team realized the vehicle was engulfed in flames. They worked hastily to ensure every Marine in the vehicle made it out alive amidst the burning ordnance. Immediately upon recovery of the Marines, he coordinated a casualty evacuation, saving the lives of many.

“My main focus was ensuring nobody else was going to get hurt by making sure security was established and providing aid to the Marines and making sure they ended up in a military treatment facility fast,” explained Hayek.

Hayek soon returned home from deployment with mental scars from that day. He continued his Marine Corps career and was accepted to a commissioning program and attended Ohio State University. In his transition to officer, he’d now save veterans on the home front.

While doing his commissioning requirements, Hayek helped found Vets 4 Vets at OSU. What began as Hayek discussing to one of his college professors about having a veteran-only class to share their experiences, flourished into the student organization that it is today.

“We had meetings, we had bylaws, we had pizza parties, we went to veteran facilities out in town, we did a Valentines’ Day event; it was kind of like the Single Marine Program in a way,” explained Hayek.

The establishment of Vets 4 Vets became well-known throughout campus and caught the attention of Jim Miller, associate to the Dean for the Fisher College of Business at OSU. Miller reached out to Hayek to see if he could help honor his father, a veteran, who recently passed away.

“The idea was that if you wanted to invest in something for veterans and honor your dad, they could use a student house,” said Hayek. “I’m relating this to base housing; everywhere you go in the military you have some sort of base housing if you’re married, or the barracks if you’re single.”

At the time, the University had approximately 1,600 veterans attending, many of who would have to find housing far from campus if they were unable to live in the dormitories. Miller worked with OSU staff and found an old fraternity house and purchased it for Vets 4 Vets.

The house was refurbished using donations from the local community and housed veterans that needed a temporary living space. The house was also used as an outlet for veterans to share experiences with people that can better relate. The house became something they could call home.

Hayek refuses to take credit for his accomplishments. When asked why, he referenced a quote from Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, “A cowboy is walking the fence line and he’s checking the posts to make sure no cows got out. When he sees a turtle sitting on top of the fence post, he knows that it didn’t get up there by itself.”

“That’s my 23 years in the Marine Corps,” continued Hayek. “It’s been one big effort.”

Hayek now serves as the Adjutant for 12th Marine Corps District, based out of San Diego, Calif., and continues to look after Marines under his charge. He reminds himself regularly of the greater effort and how his success is ultimately shaped by those around him.