AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
In a line of Marines from Team Tank, Regimental Combat Team 1 firing a combat-marksmanship program shoot here, one man stood out in his gray digital battle dress uniform.
Army Sgt. Shane M. White, 22, an information systems specialist with 4th Psychological Operations Group, based in Fallujah, Iraq, was participating in the CMP shoot with the Marines at the invitation of their company first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Joseph C. Gray, who also happens to be White’s father.
The soldier and his Marine dad reunited for three days while both are deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was the first time in more than a year the two service members, and family members, have seen each other.
“The last time I saw my son was last September, for one day, at his wedding,” said Gray, who has been in Iraq since April, his second deployment here.
“It’s hard trying to find time for us to take leave at the same time,” explained White, here on his first deployment.
Gray has been a Marine for more than 18 years and is currently stationed with Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. While deployed, Alpha Co. goes by the moniker Team Tank. White is in his third year as a soldier, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Though the news that White had joined the Army came as a surprise to Gray and his wife Gina, it wasn’t as much for his choice of service, but his decision to leave his studies at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, Fla.
“I’ve never pressured him to be a Marine,” Gray said. “Did I want him to be a Marine? Not as much as I wanted him to be happy.”
What makes White happy is working with computers, and though he considered the Marines, he said the only service that would guarantee a military occupational specialty in the computer field was the Army. Though his field of study in college was in the information systems field and he enjoyed the experience, White was compelled to postpone his scholarly pursuits.
“There has been someone in my family at least three generations back who has enlisted in an armed service,” White said. “I grew up thinking I would enlist at some point, and I was just ready.”
The two men’s units prepared for deployments at different times, which has made it difficult for father and son to see each other. According to Gray, the two have seen each other about four days in the past four years.
White’s unit learned of the brief window of opportunity he had to see his father – since Team Tank is always on the move – and graciously allowed the soldier a short break from his duties to fly to Al Asad. Gray served as the event planner for this visit, taking his son out to the CMP shoot, and then the next day, letting him fire a round from a tank’s main gun.
“We don’t get a lot of exposure to weapons,” White said, referring to his computer MOS with the Army. “We don’t get combat-arms missions; (we are) combat support.”
“Which is how his mom prefers it,” Gray added.
Both Gray and White have made favorable impressions with their units. Gray, serving with Alpha Co. since June 2007, leads with the mindset that mission accomplishment and troop welfare are interdependent.
“If you’re really in tune with the Marines and the issues they’re dealing with, you can keep the morale high,” said Gray, originally from Ripley, Ohio. “These Marines are doing the most proficient, professional and tactically patient job of any Marines I’ve worked with.”
“He cares a lot about the Marines and takes a personal interest in their welfare and well-being,” said Capt. Peter L. Schnurr, company commander, Team Tank, from Voorhees, N.J. “Most are around the same age as (White), so I think that directly relates to how he cares about the troops in the company.”
Team Tank operates in austere conditions and is based in Fallujah, but is never in a forward-operating base or combat outpost for more than a few weeks at a time. Their mission, to help rid the country of foreign fighters from organizations like Al Qaeda in Iraq by sweeping in remote areas outside of populated areas, calls for the nomadic unit to often live out of their vehicles.
“By him keeping the troops spirits up, it makes my job easier, especially during the operations we’ve been doing this deployment,” Schnurr said. “He directly impacts our ability to stay out in the field for weeks at a time and still do what the (commanding general) wants us to do.”
White’s accomplishments have impacted his unit in similarly significant ways.
“Recently White developed and created a website on the SIPR (secure network) to disseminate programs and products,” said Army Staff Sgt. Edward L. Fourquet, 27, communications section non-commissioned officer-in-charge with 4th Psychological Operations Group. “His effort eliminated the previous method and saved the unit more than $4 million of satellite equipment and airtime.”
Fourquet noted that White has earned numerous Soldier of the Month awards from various command levels and has been consistently promoted of the soldiers in his grade.
“He performs way above his maturity and age level and excels compared to his peers,” Fourquet said. “White’s an excellent soldier and phenomenal NCO.”
Gray said that his son hasn’t just made an impression on the Army, but has also inspired other young people.
“He’s had a huge impact on all (his siblings’) lives as a big brother,” said Gray. “They all admire him immensely.”
According to Gray, despite his popularity at home, White rarely hears a “hoo-ah,” the Army’s motivational cry. His younger siblings – Skylinn, 18, Richard, 13, and Emma, 11 – prefer the “ooh rah” of their father’s service. Emma also tells White his hair is too long.
The two service members have now gone their separate ways, planning to rejoin as a family in California after the new year. But this short visit was something that father and son will always remember.
“This visit has been memorable, and we’re hoping that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, in that neither one of us returns to Iraq (at the same time),” Gray said. “There’s enough stress on his mother to have both of us here at the same time.”