As the United States honors those who served in the military with Veteran’s Day today, Cleveland Browns assistant coach Steve Gera takes a moment to reflect.
Before he was an assistant coach with the Browns, Gera wore a different uniform, one that came with an Eagle, Globe and Anchor medal, a pair of combat boots and an M-16 rifle.
Prior to his coaching career, Gera spent four years in the United States Marine Corps, where he earned the rank of captain and served two tours in Iraq during the initial part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During his two tours of duty in the Middle East, Gera was stationed in Fallujah, which was a hotbed for insurgency.
“It was absolutely the best experience I think a young guy can have if you want to lead people and lead organizations,” Gera said. “It was phenomenal what I was able to learn at such a young age. Leading a platoon of Marines, first and foremost, I think is the best job any human being can have because the things that they do are so amazing.
“They’ll do anything for you and with you if you train them correctly and if you give them purpose and a reason. Having a platoon of Marines and being in Iraq, it was amazing. It may have been the best time of my life, and I don’t know if it will get any better than being over there with my Marines.”
Gera refers to his four years of service in the Marine Corps as a privilege, not a sacrifice. To him, those who sacrifice leave everything on the battlefield and take care of the home front during deployments.
“You join the Marine Corps, you join the Army, you join the Navy, you join the Air Force because you want to serve,” Gera said. “I don’t look at it as being a sacrifice, whatsoever. I view it purely as a service. It was the best time of my life, so how can I view that as a sacrifice. The people who sacrifice in the military are the families, or those who have gone before, laid down the ultimate sacrifice or those who’ve been injured.”
Gera, the son of Lieutenant Colonel Jim Gera, enlisted in the Marines Officer Candidate School one week after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and did so with both his family history and sense of pride in serving the country.
“That was the catalyst,” Gera said of 9/11. “My father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, and then, so were my uncles. I come from a family of service. I’ve got Secret Service. I’ve got FBI. I’ve got everything in my family.
“Before 9/11, I was actually toying with the idea of going into the Marine Corps and I was talking to the recruiters, but after 9/11, it was the thing I had to do. I didn’t want to wake up at 30 years old and regret not doing it. It was my purpose at that point in time of my life.”
The Marines have the longest basic training of any of the United States’ five branches of the military, a fact that Gera takes pride in. He wanted to be the best of the best when it came to serving the country, which led him to the Marines and Officer Candidate School (OCS) in the first place.
It was during OCS that Gera learned that to be the best, he had to withstand the challenges those who were considered the best could offer.
“The hardest thing with Officer Candidate School is that they set you up to fail every day,” Gera said. “Most of the guys and girls who go there, they’ve been fairly successful in life. They’ve been able to achieve quite a bit in their 21, 22 years. They’ve had a lot of success.
“What the Marines do is they really do a great job of setting you up to fail, and seeing how you react, see how you rebound, and also, how you work with others in that type of environment. That’s probably the hardest thing, getting used to that.”
Gera transitioned back to civilian life from the Marine Corps in 2006 and went back to school.
While pursuing a Master’s of Business Administration through the Sports MBA program at San Diego State University, Gera worked in the front office of the San Diego Chargers. It was during that time in which Gera worked on salary-cap and roster formulation projects, and later met current Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who was the Chargers’ head coach at the time.
While with Turner, and also, current Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, Gera learned about the day-to-day operations of a football team and now serves as the liaison between the head coach and all of the departments within the organization.
After spending seven years in professional football, Gera sees many similarities between the gridiron and the battlefield.
“The thing that everyone focuses in on is the mission,” Gera said. “For us, it’s winning football games. In the Marine Corps, it was mission accomplishment and troop welfare and taking care of the people underneath you. Since we’re all focused on that, we all have that commonality. In the Marine Corps, we’re all Marines. Whether or not you were a Lance Corporal or a General, you’re still, first and foremost, a Marine and a rifleman.
“Coach Chudzinski has the same ethos. We’re all football men. You can find commonality in that, and that takes care of some of the diversity issues. At the end of the day, it’s all about good leadership. They train, they educate, they coach and they lead. I think our staff does that exceedingly well. It’s something I definitely took with me from the Marine Corps, how to be with young men and lead them.”
Having led young men and women, both on the battlefield and football field, Gera is now first in line to lead a grateful nation in thanking those who have served or are currently in the military on Veteran’s Day.
“Veterans are phenomenal people,” Gera said. “We don’t want parades. Simple gratitude, I think, is all veterans want. Veterans don’t serve so they can thump their chest. They get into it because it is their purpose. It was their thing to do. When people talk about how to show appreciation to service members and veterans, one is a simple tip of the cap, a ‘thank-you,’ a pat on the back.
“It doesn’t have to be a parade, doesn’t have to be a spectacle. Then, it’s a fair shake. Whether that means hiring more veterans if you own a business or helping a guy out if he’s down on his luck or something, I think that’s the most important thing people can do for veterans.”