With three combat deployments under his belt and a Purple Heart on his chest, Staff Sgt. Zachary Rubart imagined a new assignment as platoon sergeant for the famed Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon in Washington would present a different kind of challenge.
But on Sept. 16, 2013, while Rubart was training on the Marine Barracks Washington parade deck, reports of an active shooter at Washington Navy Yard next door brought all his infantry experience and combat training into focus. Without wasting a moment, Rubart assembled a handful of Marines into a quick reaction force and took off for the armory, his ceremonial sword still strapped to his side.
Once armed with M4 carbines, Rubart and his Marines teamed up with D.C. SWAT personnel, who had arrived at the Navy Yard. Together, they began clearing several rows of buildings and secured the homes of the chief of naval operations and other flag officers who lived on the base.
"Because we came off looking like we reacted the exact way we were supposed to, he kind of helped us develop a [standard operating procedure]," 1st Sgt. Michael Brown, Rubart's senior enlisted supervisor, said.
Rubart, 31, is a proven leader who can be trusted in high-stakes situations. He is committed to improving himself and his Marines on and off duty, and he has a long record of service to his community extending beyond the military. It's for these reasons that Rubart is the 2015 Marine Corps Times Marine of the Year.
Rubart's combat experience includes two deployments to Fallujah, Iraq, and one to Marjah, Afghanistan. He was wounded during his second deployment to Fallujah in 2006, taking shrapnel to his hand, face and leg. Despite the injuries, he returned to his unit 16 days after the blast and completed the deployment.
In nominating Rubart for the honor, his commanding officer said the staff sergeant always positioned himself at the point of friction on behalf of the Corps and the troops he supervises, no matter his current posting.
"That's what I need as a commanding officer, is for our Marines to be better Americans, to be better Marines," Maj. Richard Stinnett told Marine Corps Times. "And he does that on a daily basis."
Now the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Marine Corps security force at the White House Communications Agency out of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, Rubart supervises about 50 Marines who travel with the president for security and support. It's work that requires quick thinking and authoritative action with little oversight.
Last November, Rubart was woken by a phone call at 3 a.m. from Marines traveling to China with the presidential detail. A paperwork problem concerning what the troops could take into the country with them was threatening to turn into a confrontation.
"It was a tiny little paperwork mistake that caused something that could have been much more dramatic," Rubart said. "I developed a couple courses of action and presented them to the commander and let him make a decision."
Rubart has also helped the Marines at the White House Communications Agency become indispensable to an increasing number of joint missions and contingency operations, Brown said. Where previously Marines only supported overseas presidential travel, they now assist with trips inside the continental U.S. as well, thanks to Rubart's efforts to find new ways to use them, he said.
"[Rubart is] making it to where, if there's aren't Marines involved, there's going to be a problem," Brown said. "He's making it a necessity, not just a nice-to-have. He's making our place at the table a little bigger."
Off the clock, Rubart works hard to keep his Marines involved in their community, organizing volunteering opportunities to mentor children of fallen troops with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, serve veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Bethesda, Maryland, and feed the homeless in the neighborhood of Marine Barracks Washington. During his previous assignment as an instructor at the School of Infantry out of Camp Geiger, North Carolina, Rubart volunteered more than 100 hours to coach youth soccer, serving the local city of Jacksonville.
Rubart also earned his bachelor's degree in management from American Military University in May after seven years of study on top of his full-time job and caring for his two children, Ava, 7, and Liam, 3.
Rubart has almost made it mandatory for his Marines to pursue college courses as well, and routinely introduces new academic concepts and applications so troops can improve their minds and develop professionally.
"He's constantly sending emails with different kinds of articles for us to read, things like that that are going to make us a better leader, a better man, whatever," Cpl. Daniel Minnehan, who has reported to Rubart for a year and a half, said. "He's always challenging the junior leadership of the Marines to improve their situations at work, situations off work, always trying to make something better."
Cpl. Kevin Frazier, who has served under Rubart for three years at Marine Barracks Washington and at the White House Communications Agency, said the staff NCO helped inspire him to continue pursuing a college education. Frazier is now in his junior year at Penn State's world campus, where he's pursuing a degree in advertising and public relations.
Of the enlisted leaders he's worked for, Rubart ranks at the top, Frazier said, because of his genuine concern for his Marines and his desire to see them thrive and excel.
"He doesn't do it to be recognized," Frazier said. "He just does it because, in his world, it is the right thing to do and caring about Marines is his passion. And he does very well at it."
Rubart said his leadership philosophy is simple.
"People naturally are going to hear what you say because of your rank, but if you exhibit the qualities they want to see, they're going to follow you because they want to," he said. "Be a good dude, and in turn, they're going to latch on to that."
Following his current tour, Rubart plans to pursue a commission as a Marine Corps officer. He's also studying for the Law School Admission Test so he can prepare for a civilian career in law after he retires from the Marine Corps.