Henderson Hall sergeant major embodies Marine Corps spirit
September 28, 2010
From the moment you meet Sgt. Maj. Joseph M. Davenport III, sergeant major, Headquarters and Services Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, Henderson Hall, it's obvious he's a Marine's Marine.
As the link between the non-commissioned officers assigned to Henderson Hall and Col. Roarke L. Anderson, the commanding officer there, Davenport has his hands full.
Barely three weeks ago, Davenport was front and center at Henderson Hall as he participated in the time honored tradition of the passing of the sword, symbolizing the sacred trust from one Marine to another.
Last week, after completing his daily physical fitness training workout, Davenport was outside Smith Gym participating in the Devil Dog 7K run and walk with fellow Marines, Soldiers and civilians in the Henderson Hall Marine Corps Community Services sponsored event.
''When I decided to join the Marine Corps in 1983, I interviewed with all the services, but the Marine Corps recruiter really sold his branch of service," recalled Davenport.
''We'll give you leadership skills. Leadership skills transfer anywhere to any job you want to do," he said.
''It was straight forward and to the point," Davenport continued.
''They weren't going to give me any [additional] money for qualifying to be a combat engineer. You get what you earn."
After rising through the non-commissioned officer ranks and myriad assignments, Davenport transferred to the Individual Ready Reserve in 1992.
''I got out at almost the ten-year mark, went in the reserves, back to work at VDOT; then returned to active duty."
''Even when I was in the reserves, I remained on active status a lot, coming in for a month or six months at a time. I don't think my wife would say I was ever in the reserves," Davenport laughed.
''It's a unique blend experiencing both the active duty and the reserve side because you get a different perspective when you bring these (reservists) Marines on active duty and how they operate. They're pretty talented individuals. I was impressed with some of the units I worked with," said Davenport.
Davenport also has experienced working with servicemembers from the other branches of the a rmed services, through joint command assignments, but prefers the camaraderie of the Corps.
''I was treated well (by the other services), but when you're a Marine, you want to be around Marines," he smiled.
Of the many places worldwide Davenport has traveled throughout his career, he likes the West Coast, particularly San Diego, Calif., the best.
''I'm sure I'll do one more tour at Camp Pendleton before I retire," he said.
He also enjoyed Norway.
''It's very pretty there. We were above the Arctic Circle 20 days and I got to see the aurora borealis. It's an interesting place."
Davenport explained the Marine Corps gave him exactly what they promised when he enlisted, which was a chance and an opportunity.
''I can't complain about any of my assignments. You have to make them what they are."
''I could be here saying negative things like 'I'm here in the D.C. area where traffic is terrible, the base is too small' and go on and on, but you get what you put into it," Davenport said.
''There are a lot of good things about D.C. - I can go running in the morning and see the National Monument, Capitol dome and the Iwo Jima Memorial. How many people get to see this every day'
I'm sure there are a lot of people who would love to be here doing what we're doing."
Davenport says he's a firm believer in 'the glass is half full.' And it shows in his attitude.
There have been changes in the Marine Corps over the years, besides shifts in mission and uniforms that Davenport has observed.
He mentioned the obvious changes in technology over the years, namely computers, cell phones, music players, etc.
''I don't own an iPod or a cell phone (except the one the government gave me for work). I don't even have cable television at home. I've got my own reality series going on at home," he joked.
''There was a time any Marine came in, they'd do a tour in the Pacific, duty aboard a ship and get stationed at 29 Palms (Calif.). I've talked to Marines who have never been on a ship, never done a tour in Okinawa, or even worked on the West Coast."
He said ''We use to do a lot of expeditionary and we've lost a lot of our Corps skills. There are kids today who will never know these skills. They'll come in the Marine Corps, do four years, get out and never experience what we experienced.
Other changes the sergeant major noted are the rising suicide rate in the Marine Corps as well as the number of motorcycle accidents. Davenport is also concerned about young single Marines living off base and the lack of bonding by not living in the barracks.
''When I was a first sergeant, everyone lived on base and knew each other's business. Back then, I couldn't fathom a lance corporal living out in town. If more Marines lived on base, I think it would help with bonding and would help us a lot with prevention of suicides."
Davenport also spoke about improvement of quality of life and physical standards. ''We didn't have a Family program years ago. Now we have Family Readiness officers and Marine Corps Community Services and the Single Marine Lounge. And MCCS at Henderson Hall is more advanced than anywhere I've ever been.
''Also, the standards for the fitness reports - the combat fitness test and the physical fitness test have changed since I've been in and we're right on track with that."
Davenport said the one piece of advice he'd give to young Marines is ''watch your money; make an appointment with your financial advisor on base and be smart (with money), because it doesn't last long. Take care of your career, take care of your money and everything will be OK."
Contemplating changes he'd make if he was sergeant major of the Marine Corps, Davenport said ''I'd like to see first term Marines not be assigned to the National Capital Region. This is not a structured Marine assignment like Camp Lejeune, N.C., or 29 Palms where they have structured warrior type assignments. Or I'd only assign them here for two years, and then they'd go to a line company, to a structured Marine Corps environment where they'd learn their craft."
''I understand the need for Marines in the NCR and it's great for senior Marines, however they need to get their service qualifications and it's very hard to do that here."
Davenport reflected on the short time he's been assigned at Henderson Hall. ''It's been a short three weeks. I have 12 units here, which also includes Marines at the Annex, Pentagon, Ft. Belvoir, Andrews Air Force Base ... and in San Diego, Calif. There's about 1,800 Marines spread everywhere, so it's a robust area I'm responsible for."
The quick-witted sergeant major joked ''I have to go find everyone so I can tell them how they feel."
Switching gears to his serious side again, Davenport said ''I feel my focus here will be on professional military education and career enhancement."
''I want to give these Marines every opportunity to get promoted so I'm going to be working on the operational side more than has been done in the past."
''Everyone's job is important and everyone is busy," said Davenport.
''But we need to ensure our PMEs and fitness reports are done, we've completed our combat fitness test and physical fitness test, we do our evaluations and we shoot our weapons. We're in the Marine Corps, not just assigned to the NCR. We need to be ready because any of these Marines can get augmented to deploy with a unit to Iraq and we must be ready to go."
Aside from ensuring the Marines he is responsible for are mission-capable in the operational sense, Davenport feels the Marine Corps today is still the same in regard to service pride.
''We're still making Marines the way we always have."
''It's always good to come back here."
''You get the orders, salute and do the best you can," said Davenport. ''I'm glad to be here and I'm going to take care of Marines."