Marines Blog

The Official Blog of the United States Marine Corps

Subscribe by RSS

Shaped by Combat: Gunny Taylor

mainimage1

Gunnery Sgt. Chris Taylor witnessed the reality of war while serving in Husaybah, Iraq in 2004. Today, Taylor remembers the lessons he learned as a young Marine and teaches them to his Marines at 2nd Radio Battalion. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

The violence in Iraq was reaching its pinnacle in 2004 when Chris Taylor received his deployment orders to Al-Anbar province. Marines had just bloodied their way through the first Battle of Fallujah and insurgency within the country was beginning to expand as sectarian clashes divided the nation.

| More: Marine experiences first enemy contact in Afghanistan |

At the time, Taylor was newly married and just learning how to balance his life with his wife Angela. He had recently graduated the Defense Language Institute as an Arabic linguist and was just getting settled into their new home in Jacksonville, N.C., when he found out his unit, 2nd Radio Battalion, was to deploy.

Angela was speechless. Taylor comforted his wife the best he could, but anticipation, fear, and excitement gripped his own thoughts. As a corporal, Taylor had never deployed before and didn’t know what to expect. But as a young noncommissioned officer, he knew he needed to be in Iraq.

Since 2001, Taylor felt an overwhelming need to help people, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Now, he recognized Iraq would help him discover purpose in his life and provide him the opportunity to ultimately serve others.

Cpl. Martin Kim provides over watch as the Afghan Uniform Police and the Kajaki Police Advisor Team patrol through the local bazaar near Outpost Mamuriyet April 1.  Kim is a member of the U.S. Marine-led Kajaki Police Advisor Team. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

Cpl. Martin Kim provides over watch as the Afghan Uniform Police and the Kajaki Police Advisor Team patrol through the local bazaar near Outpost Mamuriyet April 1. The past decade of war has shaped who Marine Corps leaders are and what future leaders will be like. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

The Marine Corps had been at war in Iraq for 13 months when Taylor and his unit landed in Al-Qa’im in August 2004. It didn’t take long for the reality of war to sink in.

Taylor unloaded his bags off the plane and into a 7-ton truck bound for Husaybah, a small, violent town on the border of Syria. As he sat in the passenger seat of the truck, he gazed through a fractured windshield damaged by a single bullet.

“The driver looked over at me and said that bullet was for the last Marine who sat there,” Taylor said. “In that moment, it all kind of clicked for me. I realized war was real and I knew we were going to be truly involved in it. ”

The war was real and Husaybah was an epicenter for insurgency; the local government had imploded, thieves had uprooted the city streets, and Islamist insurgents flowed across the Syrian border smuggling weapons and personnel. Marines controlled only a few blocks in the war-torn city and worked desperately to curtail the insurgency and the violence.

“Husaybah was the ‘Wild West’,” Taylor said. “There was a fight for complete control of the city. It was a bloody time for Marines, as they were engaging in direct firefights or being constantly fired upon with indirect fire.”

Taylor said during the first few weeks in Iraq, his emotional strength was tested. He was fighting two battles—one as a Marine, the other as a soon-to-be father. After landing in Iraq, Taylor called his wife and found out she was one month pregnant.

“The pregnancy added a lot of stress to me and my wife,” Taylor said. “I was scheduled to be deployed for 13 months, so I knew she would have to go through the pregnancy by herself. I really had to balance the emotions of the family I left behind while dealing with my own problems that came with being deployed.”

Taylor said as time went by, the fear and anxiety waned. He psychologically separated himself from the uncertainties of combat and, much like other Marines, he simply focused on what he could control.

For the remainder of the deployment, Taylor concentrated solely on his job of supporting infantry battalions with signals intelligence.

Cpl. Martin Kim and Lance Cpl. James Brockwell take a rest at Afghan Uniform Police Outpost Mamuriyet April 1. The U.S. Marine-led Kajaki Police Advisor Team visited the AUP post and patrolled with them through the local bazaar. Before leaving, the AUP fed the Marines local food including sheep liver and bread. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

Cpl. Martin Kim and Lance Cpl. James Brockwell take a rest at Afghan Uniform Police Outpost Mamuriyet April 1. Many Marines numb themselves to the reality of war, which helps them cope with the stress and danger of combat. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

As a new signals intelligence operator, Taylor had a massive learning curve but he worked hard to understand his role. Taylor admitted combat matured him quickly, which he attributes to the decisions he and fellow Marines faced daily.

“War forces many Marines to come face-to-face with their own morality,” he said. “In combat, you have to make decisions immediately, and right or wrong, you have to live with those consequences.”

Taylor said his time in Iraq changed him. After returning home, he prioritized his life. The ideas of what he thought were important faded and he focused more on spending time with his family.

“A Marine’s time in combat makes them reflect on what is important in their life,” he said. “For me, it was family. I wanted to show them how much I appreciated them for the support they had given me.”

Taylor also learned a lot about himself. He admitted he numbed himself to the realities of war, which helped him cope with the truth, proving to himself he was mentally capable of handling more than he thought.

Because of his experiences and unit leadership in Iraq, Taylor vowed as long as he served in the Marine Corps he would be a supportive leader and enable his Marines so they could do their job effectively.

It has been nearly ten years since Taylor served in Iraq. Now as a gunnery sergeant and serving in Afghanistan with 2nd Radio Battalion, he continues to rely on and apply the lessons he learned as a young Marine.

Taylor said he teaches his junior Marines everything he knows because he believes, in terms of leadership, the Marine Corps is cyclical— a recurring phase of learning and teaching. Taylor knows eventually his time in the Marine Corps will come to an end, but he is confident in the future leaders of the Corps.

“In my opinion, the Marine Corps has the strongest leaders it has had in decades,” Taylor said. “Marines of this generation have been engaged for the longest time in the history of our nation. We have fought these long engagements and have succeeded. I believe the Marine Corps is in very good hands moving forward.”

    Related Posts

  • Scott Harvey

    Gunny Taylor ranks in the top of all Staff NCOs I had the pleasure of working with in my time in service. As with all organizations, there will be the good and there will be the bad. Gunny Taylor exemplified all the traits I was taught were integral to being a good Marine and a good Staff NCO. He was a great teacher and showed me that despite any negative experiences in the Corps, there are outstanding SNCO leaders who truly care about the well-being of their Marines and will go out of their way to ensure their success.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mantbrwn Mark Brown

    GySgt Taylor is one of the finest Marines I have had the pleasure of serving with. Totally dedicated to the Marines in his charge and always out for their best interest.