Battle-hardened Marine Teaches Others
(January 21, 2011)
|MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (MCN - 1/19/2011) — "Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up, then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is."|
Gunnery Sgt. William Abernathy, the company first sergeant for Military Police Support Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, gives instruction on how to properly load an M1014 shotgun while engaging the enemy in combat aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 28, 2010. "Make sure you put the stock firmly in your shoulder because this weapon will hurt your feelings," chuckled Abernathy. Photo by LCpl. Daniel A. Wulz
|Many people recognize this line from the classic western film The Outlaw Josey Wales starring Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood. In the movie, Eastwood plays a stoic and fierce outlaw who always keeps his calm, shoots straight with his revolver and with his words. In many ways, Eastwood's character personifies Gunnery Sgt. William Abernathy, the company first sergeant of Military Police Support Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group. Abernathy has been described by his Marines as a no-nonsense guy who does not pull any punches.|
“When Gunny Abernathy talks, everybody shuts up and listens,” said Sgt. Maleah Slaughter, a military policeman in MP Support Co., II MHG. “He's definitely somebody to be heard.”
Abernathy was born and raised in the small town of Madison, Miss. and graduated from Madison Central High School. “I was 16 years old before we got our first stop light,” said Abernathy, in a distinctive Southern draw.
|Once he completed high school in May 1996, Abernathy quickly started down the path he is currently on.|
|“I walked across the stage, gave my diploma to my mom, gave her a hug, got in [the recruiter's] car, went to [Military Entrance Processing Station] and went to boot camp.”|
Abernathy became a Marine because he wanted to serve his country, but this was not the old clich� of ‘Corps, country and momma's apple pie.' For him, joining the military was more of a requirement than a career choice. He believes every American citizen should serve at least two years in any branch of service.
For Abernathy's first four years in the Marine Corps, he served as a machine-gunner in the infantry and then did a lateral move to military police. He has been stationed at Marine Corps bases such as Okinawa, Japan, Kanoehe Bay, Hawaii, Camp Lejeune, N.C. and he even did a tour of duty as a recruiter down in LaGrange, Ga.
"It was absolutely the worst tour of duty I've ever had. And I've got five combat tours."
One of those tours of duty was in Fallujah, Iraq. It was there, in 2005, that Abernathy met his wife Rachel.
“Well, our guys went through a lot of ammo... and she was our battalion [ammunition technician] chief,” said Abernathy, with a slight grin on his face. “When we got back we kept up conversations, started dating, and a year or so later we got married.”
Abernathy's other deployments have had other lasting impressions on him as well. On his last deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, where he was told by Afghan villagers the Taliban had a $50,000 price on his head, Abernathy found himself in one of the most vicious fire-fights he had ever been in. While repelling an enemy assault, Abernathy quickly and calmly aided every Marine that was wounded and established a casualty collection point behind his hesco barriers that effectively shielded the wounded from any indirect fire.
It was during this fire-fight that he employed a very unique first aid tool. It is a tool he tells all of his Marines to have in their individual first aid kits – tampons.
"I always carry tampons with me. They plug bullet holes pretty good," he explained.
After the fight was over, Abernathy's uniform was covered with blood from many of the various Marines he aided. He wore that blood stained uniform for over a month.
“I didn't have any water to wash the blood off my clothes. I barely had enough water to drink. I wore those kids' blood on me for about a month and a half. My commanding officer made me burn my uniform. I still got the boots that have blood all over them. I keep them in my house. I can't bring myself to throw them away. I just can't.”
When asked how he is able to stay calm in battle, Abernathy simply replies, “I made my peace with God a long time ago.”
He feels it is essential that leaders stay calm when under pressure. Loss of bearing and panic only multiplies the chaos.
"If my guys don't have faith in who's leading them then we're all screwed. I'm depending on them to beat back the bad guy and if I'm flipping out then they can't do that effectively."
It was also on this deployment that he suffered a mild case of traumatic brain injury caused by a high mobility artillery rocket that exploded near him while he was chasing after a sniper. This injury is keeping him from deploying with his fellow Marines.
“It kills me to see guys I know go to very bad areas, and know that I can't go with them. I'm not a war-monger. I know what I'm capable of and I damn sure know how to fight the Taliban. There's just one way to deal with them that's effective and gets results: You gain ground, you push them off and you own the real estate. It is what it is.”
Even though his condition is currently keeping him from deploying, it does not stop him from teaching and guiding his Marines. Many of his Marines agree if there is one thing he teaches them – it is how to stay alive.
“I've seen how brutal [the Taliban] can be. I've seen what they do when they get their hands on one of ours. I'll be damned if I take a kid into harm's way and I don't give him every tool that I have to use.”
Even though Abernathy has been through the ringer on more than one occasion, he does not use his experiences to brag or boast, but to validate what he is teaching.
“I try not to be that guy that's got a story for everything. I'm not the only one who's seen and done combat. There is nothing glorious in war. There is nothing glorious in taking another life. There's no awesome feeling that you get filled with. Dead is dead. You just killed somebody's son, husband or brother. There's nothing awe-inspiring about that stuff. It's a necessary evil.
“I sleep fine at night. I'm not a sociopath. When the chips are down, and I've got to make that life or death decision to pull the trigger or give the order to kill, I've got no problem with that stuff.”
Abernathy's Marines definitely agree he is by no means smoke and mirrors.
“When he talks, he says everything in a way you understand and you know he's not lying,” said Sgt. Brad Bianchi, a military policeman in MP Support Co., II MHG. “You always want to hear what he has to say.”
As far as life after the Marine Corps is concerned, Abernathy has many plans, but has not narrowed down exactly what he wants to do yet. Many of his peers have encouraged him to pursue a college degree in psychology because of his ability to counsel Marines who may be suffering from the effects of a combat deployment.
“I can relate to them. It's kind of hard for a combat veteran who's chewed dirt, spilled blood and had his blood spilled to relate what he's gone through to some 25-year-old psychologist who's never even left the country or gone in to combat. I put a different spin on things. For some of them it helps. For others, it's still a work in progress.”
When asked if there is any advice he could give to Marines, Abernathy says simplicity is the key to success.
“Focus on the basics. High speed is not always better. So many people get wrapped around the axle about their own personal success they forget what the purpose of this gun club is, which is to fight wars and to take care of our own.”
The one piece of advice he always gives, especially when he is pinning rank on a newly promoted Marine is, “Don't forget who you are and where you've come from. It's not the rank that makes the man. It's the man that makes the rank.”
|Article and photo by USMC LCpl. Bryan Nygaard|
II MEF (FWD)
Reprinted from Marine Corps News
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