CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- In 1974, the same year Lynrd Skynrd topped the charts with "Sweet Home Alabama," Chief Warrant Officer Terry L. Walker graduated from Marine boot camp. Twenty-nine years later, he achieved something few Marines have ever accomplished.
Walker, a native of Rittman, Ohio, was one of two gunners promoted to the rank of chief warrant officer-5 on Feb. 6.
During the ceremony, held here underneath the Djiboutian and American flags, Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, commander of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, and a large group of service members took a break from operations to congratulate the gunner.
"A gunner is an infantry weapons officer," explained Walker, who is the force protection officer for CJTF-HOA. "It is his job to know everything there is to know about infantry weapons."
His trek to becoming a gunner, whose rank is distinguished by the famed black "bursting bomb" insignia, began shortly after his brothers joined the Marines.
"My older brother joined the Corps, and soon after my identical twin joined," recollected Walker. "I decided to stick it out in high school, but after I graduated, I decided to enlist."
The Vietnam War was coming to a close, but Walker's career was just beginning.
Walker has definite views about Marines from that era and the Marines of today.
He said, "A lot of people say that today's Marine Corps has the best people it's ever had, but I don't agree with that one bit. During the Vietnam War, it was not popular or en vogue to be a Marine, but there were a group of young men that chose to become Marines anyway. I just don't know how there can ever be better men than that."
Throughout his career, Walker said he has been privileged to work with "some of the giants of the Corps and a few heroes of the republic, many whose names would be
unrecognized by most people."
Those men helped shape the gunner into the Marine he is today.
In order to be selected for "gunner," a Marine must have at least 16 years of time in service and must be at least a gunnery sergeant.
"I remember when I was first told I was selected to become a gunner. I was the company gunny (nickname for a gunnery sergeant) for Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, under the command of a Lt. Col. Tom Jones," he said. "It was during Operation Desert Shield, and when he told me, it didn't faze me because I was preoccupied by the imminent war."
The year was 1990, and the Marine gunner program had been reinstated two years prior. Walker graduated with the third class of gunners. He spent the next year attending various schools.
The transition from enlisted to officer was not difficult for Walker.
To Walker, a Marine in the infantry is not judged by the rank he wears on his shoulder, but by the responsibility of his position and the amount of esteem he receives from those who work for him.
Upon returning from Operation Desert Shield, he was assigned as the gunner for 4th Marine Regiment, located at Okinawa, Japan, where his mettle was put to the test.
Walker explained, "Usually, a senior-ranking gunner is sent to be a regimental gunner, but at the time, the Corps was running short of gunners. That was a challenging time for me."
After completing his tour with 4th Marines, Walker served as gunner for 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance Bn. and 3rd Bn., 6th Marines. He also was the gunner for all of 6th Marines. Prior to filling his current billet, Walker was the gunner for the 2d Marine Division.
During his long career, he has spent a considerable amount of time deployed away from his family.
"A gunner spends most of his time away from home," he said. "I've been blessed with a family that has been totally supportive of the path I've chosen.
"My wife has always understood this is what I do, and she has seen her fair share of deployments. But she's been able to raise two wonderful boys almost on her own."
He admitted that his family has played a bigger role in his career than one might think.
"Probably the person who has had the biggest impact on my career as a Marine has been my twin brother," Walker commented.
His twin is the operations chief for the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism).
He went on to say, "Neither of us will readily admit it, but we've always competed against each other. It's been a challenge because we're equally good infantrymen."
After twenty-nine years of service, some might think Walker would be ready to call it quits and retire, but there's still plenty of fight left in him.
"Gunners are a different breed of Marine. It takes a special man to step up to the challenge, and I can guarantee that every one of us is dedicated to one thing: we're going to win this war against terrorism," he articulated. "There's no doubt in my mind that the enemy, no matter how evil or ruthless, doesn't stand a chance. Once America decides on a task, we'll see it through to the end."