MARINE BARRACKS WASHINGTON — On a warm summer evening, more than 200 Marines with fixed bayonets stood at attention to honor Assistant Commandant Gen. John "Jay" Paxton Jr.

Paxton is retiring after 42 years in the Marine Corps. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Commandant Robert Neller paid tribute to Paxton's accomplishments during a Thursday ceremony here Thursday at Marine Bareacks Washington.

Carter recalled membered working with Paxton in 2009, when the general Paxton was instrumental in rushing more than 8,000 armored vehicles to troops in Afghanistan within 16 months. Whenever Paxton went downrange, visited Afghanistan, he would visit forward operating bases and ask troops what they needed, Carter said.

"Jay Paxton made great changes possible when it was needed most," he said. "He saved lives, countless lives."

Neller called Paxton "the most tireless, selfless human being I have ever met in my life," who worked round the clock to get the job done.

He remembered taking Paxton's job on the Joint Staff when and a guard at the Pentagon told telling him "You're here almost as much as Gen. Paxton."

"I said, 'That's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said,'" Neller recalled. 

Typically humble, Paxton said he was proud to be on the team, adding that and all he ever wanted to be was a Marine.

"The Marine Corps lied to me: I thought it was only three years, not 42," he joked, saying he could never figure out the manpower and management system, quipping that it must be which is run by "communist rat bastards." 

Gen. John Paxton Jr., outgoing assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, stands with his wife Debbie during pass and review on the parade field at the end of his retirement ceremony at the Marine Barracks Washington on Aug. 4.

Photo Credit: Alan Lessig/Staff

Paxton was commissioned in 1974 and served as commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, the 1st Marine Division and Marine Forces Command before becoming assistant commandant in December 2012.

He is widely admired by the enlisted Marines and officers who have served with him, such as retired Gen. James Mattis, the former head of U.S. Central Command.

"As a leader and as a Marine, he was just first rate," Mattis told Marine Corps Times. "He and his wife never lost sight of what the families and what the youngest troops were going through. They never had to be reminded. That was their focus."

On the battlefield, Paxton quickly picked up the enemy's rhythms and kept his Marines "focused on that balance between going after the enemy but not hurting the innocent," Mattis said.

"He'll be remembered as one heck of a professional but one who kept his sense of humor and he kept his trust in the young guys," Mattis said. "He never lost faith. He never lost heart. He never took refuge in 'things are bad' or cynicism. That just wasn't his way. He always found a way to solve a problem."

Gen. John Paxton Jr., outgoing assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, walks with his wife Debbie as they leave the parade field at the end of his Aug. 4 retirement ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington.

Photo Credit: Alan Lessig/Staff

Paxton wanted all of his enlisted Marines to serve out their time honorably in the Marine Corps, but he knew that Marines can make mistakes, said retired Gen. John Kelly, former commander of U.S. Southern Command. Paxton is a caring leader, Kelly said, and he knows how to discipline his Marines when needed "without ruining their lives." 

"His reputation is one of a really caring leader: as a guy who knows how to discipline people without ruining their lives — and mMore importantly, [Paxton knows] how to lead them to do their jobs and serve the nation and — at the same time — grow as young people throughout their time of service until they are discharged and go off into the world and do great things as citizens," he said in an interview.

Paxton is staunch advocate of enlisted leaders who epitomizes Lt. Gen. John Lejeune's command philosophy about the relationship between officers and enlisted Marines, said retired Sgt. Maj. Frank Pulley, who served with Paxton at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and when he led 1st Marine Division.

"He fully embraced the concept that the Marine Corps is made up predominantly of enlisted personnel and he treated the enlisted with utmost respect and regard and saw all the sergeants major and master gunnies ys and the staff [noncommissioned officers] as the keepers of tradition and the masters of Marine know-how," Pulley said.

Pulley served with Paxton twice: When Paxton was commander of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego from 2003 to 2006, and when Paxton led the 1st Marine Division from 2006 to 2007.

"Everyone would follow him," he added Pulley said. "I would follow him through the gates of hell with gasoline skivvies. Absolutely."

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