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From combat to Congress

Cpl. Sean P. McGinty

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Master Sgt. William


During a speech on the five-year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, President George W. Bush said with Americans like ‘Spanky’ Gibson serving on our side, the enemy in Iraq doesn’t have a chance.

Now, after nine-months in Iraq, Master Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson is headed to Washington D.C. to represent the Marine Corps in the halls of Congress.

Gibson was one of three staff non-commissioned officers selected for the inaugural Marine staff non-commissioned officer Congressional Fellowship. According to a recent Marine Administrative Message, the Secretary of Defense requested all services increase their presence on Capitol Hill. Gibson and the other two staff NCOs are the Marine Corps answer to that call.

The Marine Corps Congressional Fellowship is a Department of Defense program, managed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Marine Corps Office of Legislative Affairs.

This year-long program opened to staff NCOs for the first time this year. It was typically open to lieutenants through lieutenant colonels, and senior government officials who work for the Marine Corps. All military occupational specialties may apply, but the applicants must display superior performance. Also, acceptance requires a three-year obligation once the year-long tour is complete.

“I want to assist the Marine Corps globally,” said Gibson, 37. “I want to show what staff NCOs can do in a position that staff NCOs have never been challenged in.”

Gibson made history early this year when he deployed back to Iraq after his left leg was amputated above his knee. He lost his leg after being shot in the knee by a sniper in Ramadi, Iraq, May 2006, while serving as a joint terminal attack controller for 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company.

After his operation and extensive rehabilitation at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., Gibson set out to prove he was fit for duty. He trained for and participated in endurance races and triathlons. In June of 2007 he competed in the "Escape from Alcatraz" triathlon in San Francisco, where he met and asked Marine General James Mattis to return to Iraq.

Less than two years after adjusting to his prosthetic leg and fighting to stay in the Marine Corps, he returned to Iraq with I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) as the force fires chief for Multi National Force – West on Camp Fallujah.

After his time in Bethesda Naval Hospital, Gibson told himself he would never return to the Washington D.C. area. He was fully focused on returning to Iraq, he said.

“I never contemplated something like this,” said Gibson. “Nine months ago my thoughts were directed in getting back to the battlefield. Now I’m going to have to learn more about the legislative process, and I’ll have interaction between generals and congressmen.”

As a congressional fellow, Gibson will trade his uniform for a business suit while working with either the House of Representatives or the Senate. He will aid, assist and perform all duties assigned to him by the member of Congress he will work for, except for campaign work, said Maj. Ernest E. Robinson, congressional affairs officer, Office of Legislative Affairs.

“He will be working in one of the Congress members office, working directly for the member,” said Robinson. “Depending on his tasks he could be involved in legislation or some pretty important business.”

According to Marine Administrative Message 573/08, Gibson’s new duties could include drafting legislation, serving as a liaison to constituents, planning international conferences and dialogues, and much more.

“I’m looking forward to understanding the legislative process and what it has to do with the Marine Corps,” Gibson, from Pryor, Okla., said. “Now us staff NCOs can be a part of that process and have a say in it.”

As with nearly all military congressional fellows, Gibson will most likely serve with a member of Congress who serves on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee or the House Appropriations Committee-Subcommittee on Defense, according to Col. Raymond E. Celeste, congressional affairs officer, Office of Legislative Affairs.

“(Gibson) will be able to provide accurate information to our leaders (in Congress) on the issues and matters that they seek out,” said Sgt. Maj. Neil O’Connell, sergeant major, MNF-W. “He’s tactically and technically proficient, constantly educating himself, and due to his situation he’s well versed in the treatment and rehabilitation of the wounded.”

Selection for the program seems like a natural step for his career in the Marines, said Gibson. He explained that the majority of his experience in the Marine Corps has been focused on ground combat, but he is ready for a change.

“I think it’s the perfect time to go,” Gibson said. “This deployment has shown me where my place in the future is. This is going to be an environment I’m not used to, but it’ll be an environment where I can help the whole military.”

Though his tour in D.C. will be something he has never done before, his selection to the fellowship shows the Department of Defense has faith that Gibson’s extensive experience and professionalism will represent the Marine Corps in a positive light.

“He’s a driven Marine and he’s earned his selection,” said O’Connell, the senior enlisted advisor for MNF-W.

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