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Face of Defense: Marine Amputee Who Returned to Iraq Earns Fellowship

By Marine Corps Cpl. Sean P. McGinty
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq, Oct. 31, 2008 – A noncommissioned officer who returned to Iraq nine months ago after his left leg was amputated above the knee soon will represent the Marine Corps in the halls of Congress.

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Marine Corps Master Sgt. William "Spanky" Gibson, force fires chief, Multinational Force West, waits to get on the aircraft that will begin his trip home. Gibson, from Pryor, Okla., accepted an invitation as one of the first three staff non-commissioned officers to become Marine Corps congressional fellows. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sean P. McGinty

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Master Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson, whose courage President Bush recognized during March 19 remarks on the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is one of three Marines selected for the first staff NCO congressional fellowships under new Marine Corps parameters for its part in the Defense Department congressional fellowships program.

Bush, who described Gibson’s successful effort to rejoin the fight in Iraq, said that with Americans like Gibson serving, the enemy doesn’t have a chance.

“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.”

The Marine Corps congressional fellowship is a year-long program opened to staff NCOs for the first time this year. Gibson lost his leg in May 2006 after being shot in the knee by a sniper while serving in Ramadi, Iraq, as a joint terminal attack controller for 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. After extensive rehabilitation at the National Naval Medical Center 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 2007, he competed in the "Escape from Alcatraz" triathlon in San Francisco, where he met and asked Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who then commanded Marine forces serving in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, to let him return to Iraq.

Less than two years after adjusting to his prosthetic leg and fighting to stay in the Marine Corps, Gibson returned to Iraq with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force as the force fires chief for Multinational Force West here.

Gibson said that while recuperating in Bethesda, he 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,” he said. “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 work for a member of Congress, doing anything any staffer might do, except for campaign work, said Maj. Ernest E. Robinson of the Marine Corps’ legislative affairs office.

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

Marine guidelines for the fellowship say 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,” the Pryor, Okla., native 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 most likely will serve with a Congress member who serves on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee or the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, according to Col. Raymond E. Celeste of Marine Corps legislative affairs.

Gibson will provide accurate information to members of Congress, said Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Neil O’Connell, the senior enlisted Marine in Multinational Force West. “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,” O’Connell said.

Selection for the program seems like a natural step for his career in the Marines, Gibson said. The majority of his experience in the Marine Corps has been focused on ground combat, but he said he’s 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 Gibson’s tour in Washington will be something he has never done before, O’Connell said, his selection to the fellowship shows the Defense Department 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,” he said.

(Marine Corps Cpl. Sean P. McGinty serves in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs Office.)

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President Bush’s Remarks on the Fifth Anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Master Sgt. William "Spanky" Gibson, force fires chief, Multinational Force West, displays his prosthetic leg while saluting in front of the American flag on Camp Fallujah, Iraq. Courtesy photo   
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