How I Got Here: Master Gunnery Sgt. King (Marines Uncovered)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael Walters/Released)

When she first encountered a Marine recruiter, Avril (Michelle) King made up her mind to reach the top of the enlisted rank structure. Now, after nearly 30 years of constantly bettering herself as a Marine and as a woman, King has reached the rank of master gunnery sergeant in the Corps. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael Walters/Released)

Early in her career, Master Gunnery Sergeant Avril (Michelle) King felt she had to prove herself every time she entered a new work environment because she was a female Marine. Undaunted, King strived to constantly better herself as a Marine and as a woman.

The chance was slim for King, from Harvey, Illinois, to achieve the rank she wears today within her small occupational field.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Avril (Michelle) King  lists the top four achievements that helped shape her career. PME  I know that the hands-on-training through all of the Enlisted Professional Military Education Resident Academies (Sgt’s Crs/Career Crs/Advanced Crs) were the building blocks that helped me hone in on my leadership abilities, focused my critical thinking, as well as taught me sound tactical skills. I understood the long-distance education through the MCI courses, but attending the resident PME courses, gave me an edge by doing the things I read about.  There is nothing like practicing for the real-time environment.  It builds your confidence in leading, thinking and truly making the right decisions at a moment’s notice.  It also gave me the opportunity to build camaraderie with fellow Marines in other military occupational specialties that I would have never had the opportunity to meet or learn from. Family and Friends My family and friends have always been the support and mentors in my life.  They provided a spark, or a simple path of guidance that pushed me to take that next step in accomplishing any goal I set for myself in the Corps.  Knowing that I had their support helped keep my confidence levels high so that I would always continue to move forward in the Corps. Off-duty Education Off duty education allowed me to do what I said I would do before joining the Corps.  I promised myself that I would get my education while in the Marine Corps.  Of course, I didn’t know how demanding that would be until I put forth the effort to get my undergrad.  It took every bit of 6 years to achieve.  I also decided that each time I reenlisted, that I had to be enrolled in continuing education.  I don’t think you can ever go wrong being better educated.   Congressional Fellowship/Deployment The Congressional Fellowship has been the highlight of my career!  Actually, working in Congressman Joe Wilson’s office, SC-2, as a staffer in 2012 allowed me to help shape legislation as well as give my military input on defense matters in Congress.    The ultimate achievement for me was my deployment to OEF!  Helping to build Camp Leatherneck and experience the camaraderie with the military members I served with while in theatre is like no experience I’ve ever had!  I’m sure this experience helped open doors for me to participate in the Congressional Fellowship.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Avril (Michelle) King lists the top four achievements that helped shape her career.
PME
I know that the hands-on-training through all of the Enlisted Professional Military Education Resident Academies (Sgt’s Crs/Career Crs/Advanced Crs) were the building blocks that helped me hone in on my leadership abilities, focused my critical thinking, as well as taught me sound tactical skills. I understood the long-distance education through the MCI courses, but attending the resident PME courses gave me an edge by doing the things I read about. There is nothing like practicing for the real-time environment. It builds your confidence in leading, thinking and truly making the right decisions at a moment’s notice. It also gave me the opportunity to build camaraderie with fellow Marines in other military occupational specialties that I would have never had the opportunity to meet or learn from.
Family and Friends
My family and friends have always been the support and mentors in my life. They provided a spark, or a simple path of guidance, that pushed me to take that next step in accomplishing any goal I set for myself in the Corps. Knowing that I had their support helped keep my confidence levels high so that I would always continue to move forward in the Corps.
Off-duty Education
Off duty education allowed me to do what I said I would do before joining the Corps. I promised myself that I would get my education while in the Marine Corps. Of course, I didn’t know how demanding that would be until I put forth the effort to get my undergrad. It took every bit of 6 years to achieve. I also decided that each time I re-enlisted, that I had to be enrolled in continuing education. I don’t think you can ever go wrong being better educated.
Congressional Fellowship/Deployment
The Congressional Fellowship has been the highlight of my career! Actually, working in Congressman Joe Wilson’s office, SC-2, as a staffer in 2012 allowed me to help shape legislation as well as give my military input on defense matters in Congress. The ultimate achievement for me was my deployment to OEF. Helping to build Camp Leatherneck and experience the camaraderie with the military members I served with while in theatre is like no experience I’ve ever had! I’m sure this experience helped open doors for me to participate in the Congressional Fellowship.

By pursuing her goals, King has achieved success many of her colleagues early in her career doubted was possible.

Today, King serves as the Special Assistant to the Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Initiative for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Manpower and Reserve Affairs Office. Here we borrow fragments from King’s nearly 30-year career and how she’s overcome challenges and obstacles to reach where she is today.

(As told to combat correspondent Sgt. Melissa Karnath)

When I went in, I had this plum colored hair and polka-a-dot polished fingernails, not someone you would think could be a Marine. So I asked my recruiter, “What’s the highest rank you can get in this Marine Corps?” As enlisted he said E-9 and I replied, “Okay that’s what I want to do.”

I probably needed to grow up a little more, get my bearings, and the best way to do that was to go away to a branch of service and then come back after four years and go to school or even attend school while I was in the service.

I came in the Marine Corps as an Administration Clerk, 0151. I worked with service record book clerks at the Recruit Administrative Center at Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

One of my girl friends, who was also in the administration field, had done the stenographer program that the Marine Corps offered. I looked into it. I had actually put in for that program as a lance corporal and didn’t get selected. When I picked up corporal, I put in again for the program and was selected.

I completed the two-year civilian school that was very tedious. We started with 15, and there were five of us who actually became court reporters and served as court reporters in the fleet. It’s a very demanding program, very tedious.

In the court reporter field we couldn’t do B-billets, so what else would help you stand out?  The things that you personally do like going to school or helping in your community. If you’re not trying to take yourself down two paths, the path to succeed in the Marine Corps and the path to succeed in life, something is going to falter. I just thank God that I always was committed to work on myself personally as well as work on myself as a Marine at the same time.

I always knew that I had to get my degree. A college degree was huge on the list of priorities. I had been in the Marine Corps nearly ten years before I finally buckled down and worked toward my degree. I went to five different schools in order to get my general education classes so that I could get everything transferred to Southern Illinois University.

It took me six years to get my undergrad. I got it, on top of being a court reporter, mom and wife. From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., were my self-imposed school hours in order to get it done. I was proud of myself to actually have stuck through that, six years is a long time to stick with it.

I didn’t qualify with a weapon when I first came in the Marine Corps. We (females) were different from the men in that sense. The first time I went to the range to qualify, I was so nervous. I didn’t want to have to go back to the office to the guys making fun. I made sure I came back qualified.

I married my husband who lived five blocks away from me at home. When I graduated boot camp, we married. He was also a Marine. It was a dual-military family for 20 years before we divorced. He’s still my friend today.

As dual military you might as well be single parents if you have children. If anybody’s going to be successful, you’re sacrificing time with your family. We’d send our oldest daughter to be with our family in Illinois. My family was very supportive in making sure that even though I missed my daughter when she was away, I didn’t worry about her.

The Marine Corps was very good to us as far as us being able to be stationed together. I would say that the difficulty we had was whose job was more important.

There is no blame to be laid, but the Marine Corps made it difficult as to whose job was more important. We never did get that right. The support system we had for each other, I think it faltered near the end.

I was the first female enlisted person chosen for the Congressional Fellowship Program. I actually applied for the program three times before I was selected. I was very happy when I got in and it was an exciting experience that I would highly recommend to others.

After you do your one year on the Hill, you have a two-year utilization tour that you do. That’s currently what I’m doing now, my utilization tour. You come back and give back to the Corps what you’ve learned with that Hill experience.

Most definitely, there have been challenges. The racist and lewd jokes or comments, all of that was alive when I came up. I didn’t have a problem telling someone when he or she had crossed the line. It caused me to stand out, and you didn’t really want to stand out. You wanted to be accepted.

I’d have to prove myself every time I dealt with a different environment. I like being a girly girl, so of course, I don’t look like the type who can do the guy stuff. But I showed them something different. I had to be a little brash at first to make sure male Marines were not going to walk over me.

Whatever ranks I achieved or whatever successes I have achieved, it hasn’t been by myself — none of them. Family, friends, fellow Marines, even civilians have helped me to achieve every stripe that I currently wear and I’m so thankful to all of them for all of their support over the years.

Today I’m very proud to be a female Marine in the Corps. I’m proud to have experienced the things I have experienced, to have opened doors for the females coming behind me and to be able to have made a difference.

King

Throughout her nearly 30-year career in the Corps, Master Gunnery Sgt. Avril (Michelle) King deployed to Afghanistan and was the first female enlisted person to be chosen for the Congressional Fellowship Program. King currently serves as the Special Assistant to the Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Initiative for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Manpower and Reserve Affairs Office.  (Photos courtesy of Master Gunnery Sgt. Avril (Michelle) King)

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How I Got Here: Master Gunnery Sgt. King (Marines Uncovered)