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
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.
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.”
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
|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
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.
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.
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.”
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
"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
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.
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.”
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 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
“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)
Marine Corps News
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