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Through the Ranks: Gunnery Sergeant
by USMC Cpl. Colby Brown - October 6, 2011

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GARMSIR DISTRICT, Helmand Province, Afghanistan (9/29/2011) – Gunnery Sgt. Shay Henry stands with his legs just wider than his shoulders and his hands on his hips. His head eclipses the rising sun, but it's a momentary image. Other than when he is stuck behind a desk, Henry never stays in one spot. As he would say, he ‘cruises' Forward Operating Base Delhi, checking ongoing projects. From working parties to base construction, his role is that of a leader.

Gunnery Sgt. Shay Henry shares a laugh with 1st Lt. Paul Trower while sorting mail aboard Forward Operating Base Delhi here, Sept. 25, 2011. Henry, a native of Lewiston, Idaho, is the company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Services Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Trower is the executive officer of H&S Company. Photo by USMC Cpl. Colby Brown
Gunnery Sgt. Shay Henry shares a laugh with 1st Lt. Paul Trower while sorting mail aboard Forward Operating Base Delhi here, Sept. 25, 2011. Henry, a native of Lewiston, Idaho, is the company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Services Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Trower is the executive officer of H&S Company. Photo by USMC Cpl. Colby Brown
  “I don't want to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I am more of an initiative based person,” Henry said. “I don't think I am one of those guys that's always sitting down and taking a break. For the most part I am busy cruising around looking for ways to improve the base, improve the quality of life for the Marines — you know just always trying to be proactive.”

“You have to challenge yourself everyday,” Henry added. “You know the mission needs to get done, so be proactive and contribute everyday.”

The six-foot, two-inch Lewiston, Idaho native has been in the Corps since 1995. During his career, Henry has held multiple responsibilities, deployed twice to Iraq, twice to Afghanistan, twice to Okinawa as part of the unit deployment program and has been a drill instructor and Marine security guard. His vast experience in all things
Marine Corps has earned the respect of the Marines aboard FOB Delhi.

He stands a head taller than the average Marine at Delhi. A lean build hints at a physical prowess. When spoken to, even the battalion commander addresses him as “Gunny”. Henry never issues an order; he just states a task knowing that it will be accomplished. A perpetual pinch of smokeless tobacco rests in the left side of his lower lip.

When he walks, or properly ‘strides', his gait dwarfs any who try to keep up. His uniform, despite how dirty the day before, is clean and crisp every morning. The whiskers on his face never breach his skin, more than likely out of fear. Henry's eyes never judge or insult; they just hold an expecting gaze, acquired after more than 15 years experience being a Marine. All of these attributes create an aura about Henry that could only be described as a gunnery sergeant of Marines.

“Sometimes as a gunny, it's another day and it's hard to get focused because you've been here for a while,” Henry said. “But you just have to get out there and do your job. If Marines see the gunny moping around, then that's not going to bode well for the Marines under him because they are going to say ‘shit, gunny's down in the dogs.' It will be a thousand times easier for a lance corporal, who stands in a turret all day or who has been standing post for 12 hours a day, to become unmotivated and complacent. It only takes a split second for something really bad to happen. You never know when something could happen out here, so you always have to be ready.”

A ‘gunny' is the Marine Corps social equivalent of a father. They provide junior Marines someone to go to with professional and personal problems, but at the same sets the standard for personal and professional conduct.

Every Marine, whether enlisted or officer, knows the expectation their respective gunny has of appropriate behavior and can expect a stern ‘talking to' if they fall out of line.

“When you're a junior Marine you're always told what to do,” Henry said. “Then, as you progress... you slowly start transitioning away from being told what to do, to knowing what needs to get done.”

Henry's deployment experience at Delhi has been different than in years past. He is the company gunny for Headquarters and Services Company with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. In an infantry company, he had four platoons with four respective platoon sergeants. This year he has more than 15 sections all of which have a staff non-commissioned officer at the helm. Each section has a mission and its accomplishment. Henry ensures each section has what they need to accomplish their respective missions.

“I always try to make sure I am squared away and let the Marines in H&S know I am here to work just as much as they are,” Henry said. “I'm not too good to get my hands dirty. Hopefully when they are out on a working party, they see that I am with them making sure it's getting done. I try to always be energetic and positive, never do anything that would bring the Marines down. Just always try to show a presence for the guys.”

One thing Henry noted about his job this year is the adjustment needed to work with sections as opposed to platoons. Ultimately, Henry isn't responsible for the Marines in each section. When he was in an infantry company, if he had a task in need of completion, he could pull any Marine to get it done — his word was law. In H&S, he works alongside fellow SNCOs to complete the needed tasks, receiving help when sections can lend a Marine for a couple hours. But this hasn't daunted Henry, he is known to everyone aboard FOB Delhi. And everyone knows what Henry expects.

“There is a pretty good relationship between me and the section heads,” Henry said. “We have a good working relationship because everything is connected. If one section goes down it affects everyone, so we work together.”

Although Henry holds a position of power, he expects Marines aboard Delhi to do more than just follow orders.
He expects them to take the initiative, doing what needs to be done today so they won't have to worry about it tomorrow. He wants Marines to be able to correct each other when something is wrong instead of waiting for the gunny to come around and fix it for them.

It's not Henry's way of pushing responsibility to other Marines; it's just how he lives life. Henry practices what he preaches, never waiting for orders — he is perpetually a step ahead.

“All they way up through my career to now, I am still learning what my leadership style is and what my responsibilities and roles are,” Henry said. “It's something you're always learning.”

As much as Henry works, he isn't immune to letting down his guard. Henry seems most relaxed when blasting a peer for the deficiencies of their favorite football team. He has countless rivalries with fellow SNCO's and officers alike. For Henry it's not a question of who will win, its how the opposing team will lose to the Seattle Seahawks, his team.

Back in the states, when Henry isn't in uniform, he patrols the Hawaiian boardwalks with the Henry Fire Team — AKA the Henry family. He has been married to his wife six years and has two daughters, aged four and two. On the wall behind his desk, there is a collage of family photos, ‘on patrol,' and Henry never fails to show off his favorite fire team.

His wife has experienced four deployments with Henry, so she knows which items to send in a care package. But Henry doesn't rely on her experience just for a quality care package. The separation from his family has brought to light exactly what is important in life.

“Sometimes separation draws you together,” Henry said. “You realize the things that are actually important. We cherish smaller things that are really important to us like family and being together ... and reading stories to my kids or just hanging out with my family and being around them.”

“I'm missing my kids a lot,” Henry added. “Once you get married and have kids, the things that were important before aren't really as important anymore. Now, you live your life for your kids, you want the best for them. But my wife does a great job of taking care of our kids when I'm deployed, so that helps me.”

When a junior Marine begins to struggle with their relationship, Henry uses his experience to help the Marine through.

“A lance corporal motivator who just got married and his wife is 19 years old, and is away from home for the fist time ... you know she probably hasn't built up that support network like some of the more senior wives have done,” Henry said. “It's tougher for some of the junior guys if their wife is having problems back home. That just adds more stress to some of the guys. Especially when they might get a call that the car broke down or the dog died or whatever it maybe; when he gets that call his mind is going to be on the problems back home.”

But like everything Henry does, his experience in the Corps gives him the leeway to advise almost everyone. He takes care of his Marines with a comforting knife-hand, only known in the relationship between a gunny and his Marines.

Since mid-April, Henry has tirelessly worked to improve conditions at FOB Delhi and provide an atmosphere in which the H&S company sections can comfortably operate. He has played a large part in renovations and additions to living areas, expansion of the base and quality of live improvements for his Marines.

“Here, everyone works day in and day out with a good attitude to accomplish the battalion's mission of mentoring Afghan forces and ensuring Garmsir is safe and secure for the local population,” he emphasized.

Even with his tour coming to an end, Henry isn't looking for a place to drop his pack.

Editor's note: First Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghanistan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.

‘Through the Ranks,' is a series of feature articles about a day in the life of a deployed Marine from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Each article will highlight an individual's personal experience through the perspective of his rank. This is the sixth article of the series.

By USMC Cpl. Colby Brown
Regimental Combat Team-5, 1st Marine Division
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2011

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