By Gunnery Sgt. Rubin Tan
In a historic moment for the Republic of Palau, an island country republic of the United States, one of its own has achieved the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant (E-9) in the United States Marine Corps. This achievement marks the first time a Palauan has attained the highest enlisted rank in the Marine Corps.
On May 12, 2023, Master Gunnery Sgt. Milton Donatus was frocked at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Blaz, Guam, in front of a formation of Marines, family, Marine veterans and the Consul General of the Republic of Palau on Guam.
Donatus was born and raised in Ngkeklau in the state of Ngaraard.
“I remember growing up, and before going to bed, we would ask our grandmother to tell us stories about what it was like on the island during World War II. We didn’t have a TV back then,” said Donatus. “She would tell us stories about the Marines and how they saved groups of people who were going to be killed by the Imperial Japanese Forces. That’s when I knew all I wanted was to be a Marine.”
At 18, Donatus traveled 805 miles from Palau to Guam in hopes of joining the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, he was a couple of years too early as the Guam Marine recruiting station was closed down. He lived with his aunt and uncle and worked various jobs around the island until the recruiting station opened. Finally, on April 28, 2000, the recruiting station reopened, and Donatus was the first and only young man to enlist during the reopening ceremony.
At MCB Camp Blaz, Donatus serves as the operations chief and is responsible for the establishment, management and operation of the base’s current and future force laydown. He is also the base’s Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor.
“Master Gunnery Sgt. Donatus is a Marine’s Marine, and there’s no other Marine I would want as my operations chief,” said Lt. Col. Colter Bahlau, MCB Camp Blaz operations officer. “He exudes the patriotism that is rich within the Republic of Palau, and he sets the finest example when it comes to work ethic, physical fitness and leadership.”
This summer, Donatus moved to Twentynine Palms, California, to serve as the operations chief for 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. Since joining more than 23 years ago, he’s served in various locations around the world. He deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, and he deployed twice to Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.
The calling to be a Marine is now entrenched in Donatus’ family. He is the oldest of four brothers who all joined the Marine Corps, and one of those brothers is a staff sergeant who continues to serve as a bulk fuel specialist. Donatus’ son, following in his father’s footsteps, is also a mortarman and an active-duty sergeant serving with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. Donatus’ daughter plans on joining the Marine Corps when she turns 18.
“I strive to live my life in a manner that inspires others to challenge themselves and take action to change their future. If I didn’t take action and listen to my grandmother, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Donatus. “Every day I strive to be like my mentors who inspired and continue to inspire me.”
Donatus recognizes that the rank he now wears is not a personal achievement but a reflection of his mentors and the community that raised him.
“There are only a handful of Palauans who have achieved the rank of E-8 in the Marine Corps,” said Donatus. “They paved the way for men like me, and when they return to the islands, they carry the pride and leadership qualities ingrained in Marines.”
As Donatus continues his service in the Marine Corps, he hopes his accomplishments will inspire future generations of Palauans to pursue their dreams and make a positive impact in their communities and beyond.
“I plan on staying in the Marine Corps until they are ready for me to get out,” explained Donatus. “I came here to do 20 years, and that flew by in a flash. I have seven more years that I can serve, and I’m intending to stay for the whole 30.”
Sources: DVIDS, Wikipedia