The views expressed on the Top Game podcast are those of the producers and/or guests appearing on the program and do not reflect the views and opinions of the United States Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

origin story


Not long ago, I was TAD in Texas with some peer MSgts for several weeks. At the first opportunity, we beelined out of small town Texas to take a road trip and snag a hotel room across the street from the Alamo.

Bear in mind, I was still new to the "flat black" domain and believe me when I say that the jump to Master Sergeant is huge. I learned early on in my career that some of the best mentoring can take place on a road trip and I took advantage.

One of the guys along for the ride was already approaching his EAS as he had reached his 20 year mark and dropped papers. Having shored things up on the homefront and wanting to dedicate more time to his family, he'd reached the point in his life where he was ready to move on.

My other "road dog" was still on the fence. Having spent the last few years as the OccFld Sponsor, arguably one of the most challenging billets in the slate of potential duty stations for a Master Sergeant, he wasn't sure if he and the family were ready for another PCS.

Over the course of that weekend, we laughed and shared war stories. We were able to confide in one another in a way that is often difficult for us. With one of us in the DC Beltway, the other in Hawaii and the "unluckiest" of us in Okinawa, it was great to have that time face to face without a webcam or handset between us.

I thought to myself that it would have been great to understand as a young Sergeant that somewhere down the road I might find myself in a similar position as these three "salty" SNCOs. If I could have been a fly on the wall when senior enlisted leadership were just hanging out and being themselves, how much would I have been able to glean from that. What could I have learned from their mistakes. What could I learned from their successes?

That was the idea behind Top Game. I wanted to sit down with my peers and ask them, "What have you done to maintain a balance in your life while in this gun club of ours?" Hopefully, it helps one young Marine along his path. Only a few episodes in and I can honestly say it's helped me already.



episodes Overview

There's an uncommon level of courage inherent to exposing oneself to the scrutiny of others. The below individuals each acquiesced to my request to sit down and reveal a deeper layer than most people are comfortable revealing. My deepest gratitude and respect goes to each of these guests for their integrity, their service to others, and their loyalty to the game.


episode 1 - GySgt Chris Sonnabend

The first episode out the gate was a doozy. I've known Sonny since 2003. Although our career paths diverged, his friendship and brotherhood was always there. In this episode, we walked some dark paths which was only possible because of our shared experiences. The takeaway from this was that if this project is going to be meaningful, I am going to have to earn the trust of the guests. #noslack


episode 2 - Joyce & MSgt Darry cross

This episode with MSgt Darry Cross was a pleasure since it was recorded in his dining room. His wife, Joyce joined us, but I could immediately sense her hesitance. Darry himself admitted later that I had him sweating at his own table. As he prepares for his next assignment on the east coast, I can't help but imagine if there's bulls to be ridden, he's the one to do it. #hangdai #cowboyup


episode 3 - MSgt Kevin Simmons (ret.)

I recorded this after a "Wings Night" at the SNCO Club on K-Bay. I have to say it was an episode I approached carefully. I planned on getting into Kevin's personal life, but wasn't sure how deep he'd be willing to go. There's some rough moments in this one. Hopefully, this will help someone who's having a difficult time on the homefront.

Thanks for the honesty, Kevin! #HoldTheLine #seppuku


episode 4 - msgt chris thomason

Episode 4 has probably been the most technically challenging due to the environment at the Five Palms on K-Bay. With no A/C, the windows open, fans blowing, birds chirping and car alarms, I had my hands full.

It's also where I decided to make the coffee or whisky gimmick a recurring theme for the podcast. This episode was brought to you by Balvenie Double Wood.

From an interview standpoint, Chris was unique in several respects. He was our first lat-move guest, a split-time retread, with Air Force time, as well as business leadership experience. To top it off, he is also our first guest to have a son follow him into the Corps. He covered all of that and more, despite the fact he was initially reluctant to agree to the interview. A Marine's Marine and a fellow Texan, his measured approach to the game is worthy of emulation.

"It's not about you, it's about them."



Episode 5 - mgysgt orlando reyes

This episode with Master Guns Reyes is one which I anticipated with equal parts enthusiasm and reluctance. On one hand, I knew he was open and willing to discuss his attempted suicide. On the other hand, I didn’t know how much further he’d be willing to go with a microphone sitting between us.

He came clean on a lot of things, particularly his comprehension of the impact he’s been able to make on others silently traveling dark paths. His influence as a candid champion of suicide prevention and awareness speaks to the inner strength required to acknowledge your mistakes and move forward.

Covering down on everything from recruiting duty to the courage required to attempt a second marriage, Orlando highlights various aspects of a life in uniform. Through it all, one has to admire not only his “love of the game” but his focus and dedication towards his fellow Marines. #fortheloveofthegame #staygrounded


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