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From the Blacktop to Afghanistan

Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade

Gunnery Sgt. Tyrone Gunn (middle), administrative chief of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan's Command Element, talks with Sgt. Robert Henry, right, one of his former recruits, and Cpl. Brian Price, one of his administrative clerks, June 14, at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Henry, the wire chief for 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, MEB-Afghanistan, was a part of the first platoon Gunn helped train in early 2005 as a drill instructor. Cpl. Aaron Rooks

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan 07.22.2009

The two environments are quite comparable. The similarities include an unforgiving terrain, unpredictable climates and a constant feeling of being trapped.

As for the differences, they're merely interchangeable. Swap unbearable humidity with extreme heat and trade sand fleas for grains of airborne sand.

Gunnery Sgt. Tyrone Gunn, administrative chief of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan's Command Element, was formerly a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and can attest to the many similarities between the island and the desert here.

Gunn, from Selma, Ala., can also attest to the similarities in the recruits who inhabit one, and the Marines who inhabit the other. There's a dedication, he said, which can be seen in each of them, even though the two may believe life can't get any better and the 16- to 18-hour days will never end.

"Everything that happened at the island had an impact on the Marines here today," said Gunn, currently on his first combat deployment. "Everything they learned in boot camp, in the crucible, drill, it all has a purpose. I think that purpose is shown with them here in Afghanistan."

Gunn was a drill instructor from January 2005 to April 2008 and said he always wonders how the recruits he trained are doing after recruit training. He said he often asks himself questions such as "Are they doing well?" or "Did I prepare them for the things they've encountered?"

A burning desire developed in Gunn through the years, a desire to join the Marines he'd trained in years past on the battlefields some have become so familiar with. He wanted to do his part like those he had trained.

Sgt. Robert Henry, wire chief for 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, MEB-Afghanistan, was a recruit in the first platoon Gunn helped train in early 2005.

"Rigid and fierce," Henry said, "that's how I remember Gunnery Sgt. Gunn."

Gunn joined Henry's platoon halfway through their training cycle as a basic drill instructor. This is a billet recruits like to refer to as the "kill hat."

Henry, a Milledgeville, Ga., native, said Gunn focused on further developing his platoon's "willing obedience to orders," a phrase often heard on the island. He always ensured the recruits understood the importance of following orders as they are given, the value of maintaining a steady work ethic to act at a moment's notice and how to maintain a will to get the job done as soon as possible.

"He made us really strong," Henry said, talking about the times the platoon wouldn't perform up to par. "The best phrase I can use to describe it is 'pain retained.' If we were not doing what we were supposed to, we would visit 'the pit' and exercise a lot. We would figure out what we were doing wrong eventually."

Henry and his fellow recruits learned that if they were told to do something and they didn't respond correctly, the consequences would be "severe and painful," he said, much like the consequences that can occur in real combat environments.

Henry saw the value of his training as a radio operator one year after leaving boot camp when a Humvee he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device in Fallujah, Iraq. He and his fellow Marines were left with a critically-damaged vehicle that just happened to house the primary communications equipment for the convoy.

"Always make sure the job gets done as fast as possible, that's what I remembered when that happened," Henry said. "We had to transfer the communications equipment from that vehicle to another as fast as possible so that the mission could continue."

Henry and his fellow Marines were able to complete the task in less than 45 minutes. He reacted to the situation just as Gunn had trained him to do, and Henry attributes that the mission's success.

After Henry's platoon graduated, Gunn train seven other platoons, each with an average of 60 recruits. The work days, and work weeks, were equally long, he said. He typically arrived at work at around 3:15 a.m. and wouldn't leave until around 9 p.m. He kept this schedule seven days a week throughout each year.

The drill instructor strived to make his men the best and teach them to not make the same mistakes twice. As he moved up in the ranks, to the billets of experienced and senior drill instructor, he began to apply the same rules to the instructors under his charge.

Upon leaving the island after more than three years, Gunn said his role as a drill instructor may have been the most "self-fulfilling responsibility he's had."

Now, more than four years later after joining his first platoon, Gunn has left behind the "rigid and fierce" attitude he once had and replaced it with a confident, determined posture.

But with his Marines, like the recruits he had before, he still remains a mentor. Though he may not admit it, Gunn has had a lasting impact on the Marines currently under his charge.

One of his Marines, Cpl. Brian Price, an administrative clerk from Indianapolis, has already set a goal to become a drill instructor one day. He said he's completely confident Gunn will help him achieve that goal one day.

"If you're around them long enough, you begin to know their strengths and weaknesses," said Gunn of the Marines with him today. "They all came from that same beginning step. If you're around them enough, you begin to know and have an understanding of what they had to go through to progress through boot camp to where they are today and help them as they continue into the future."

Even though he's far away from his former home, walking the blacktops of the island, he remains much the same and continues to pose a lasting effect on the future of the Corps.

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