By 1st Lt. Allan Newman, 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry RegimentApril 20, 2017
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- When Spc. Derell Henderson isn't maintaining Apache parts for his job as an airframe powertrain repairer with 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (LI), he's on the court playing basketball.
Henderson recently returned from the 2016 Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Basketball Tournament in Mons, Belgium. In this tournament among NATO allies, the American team placed first overall with a 4-0 record.
His road to the tournament was the result of many years of hard work, as well as the support of his fellow Soldiers and the leadership of his unit -- teamwork that enabled him to compete at the Army, Department of Defense and international levels.
Having played basketball since the age of 4 in his hometown of Winterhaven, Florida, and competed at every level throughout college and then on a professional Mexican team called The Bees, Henderson's skills on the basketball court are impressive to watch. After a year of playing for The Bees, he completed his master's degree, enabling him to become a teacher back in Florida.
Seeking new challenges, Henderson looked to the Army, specifically with the goal of working in aviation. This choice proved to be a suitable challenge for him, with the leadership he developed on the basketball court and his ability to quickly learn the technical requirements of the aviation branch.
Henderson is currently serving his first assignment with 6-6 Cavalry at Fort Drum. While he was with his unit during a rotation to South Korea in 2015 to 2016, Henderson received his first opportunity to play for the Army basketball team. He identified one key leader as the person who enabled him to take on these opportunities: Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Powell, who served as women's and men's basketball coach and mentor for the post.
"Sgt. 1st Class Powell inspired me to try out for the basketball team, changing my perspective about the Army as a whole because I was able to see a lot more Army posts and understand the bigger picture of Army operations," Henderson said. "I am very thankful for his support and vision he provided for me and many others."
The new perspective assisted Henderson in becoming a squad leader, the squadron's petroleum, oils and lubricants officer as well as environmental officer.
He was able to compete on the Korean Peninsula with the team, but due to 2nd Infantry Division funding rules he could not compete in a Pacificwide tournament in Guam. Henderson said his leadership wouldn't let his chance slip away so easily.
He said 6-6 Cavalry's senior enlisted adviser started a fundraiser to enable him to compete in Guam.
"Spc. Henderson is a Soldier with unlimited potential," said Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Harvey, 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry senior enlisted adviser. "I like to nudge him towards new challenges every time I see him."
The tournament turned out to be the key to making the All-Army Men's Basketball Team. To compete on All-Army teams, Soldiers fill out an application on the Morale, Welfare and Recreation website, and they are picked based on previous stats. Additionally, All-Army coaches must see the potential players in action.
Guam provided this opportunity for Henderson with a few of the key decision-makers for the All-Army team attending the tournament. From this tournament onward, Henderson's remarkable talent was in the spotlight.
After returning to Fort Drum after the end of the South Korea rotation, Henderson was contacted by All-Army officials and asked to travel to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, to try out for the team and possibly compete in the U.S. Armed Forces Tournament.
The pool of 30 Soldiers was whittled down to 10 in the two-and-a-half weeks before the tournament with twice-a-day practices seven days a week. The Soldiers, in ranks ranging from private to captain, spent the following two weeks training as one team.
"It was an intense schedule with no time for relaxing, but there's nothing like being on the court and playing as a team for such a specific goal," Henderson said.
For the past eight years, Air Force reigned as the armed forces champions. Over the first week of November, the All-Army team reached a 6-0 record to make it to the championship final. Army faced Air Force in the finale and won, 67-61, making the All-Army team the tournament champions.
At the end of the tournament, Henderson was chosen, along with four others among the 40 competitors, to be honored as outstanding players and declared the All-Tournament Team.
The All-Tournament Team distinction was different from being selected to play at the NATO tournament, where mission requirements took priority. Although three Army players were recognized as the All-Tournament Team, none was initially on the All Armed Forces team. A few weeks later, Henderson received a phone call with an invitation to Mons, Belgium, as complications left spots to fill on the team.
"I was very excited to get that phone call and hear I was going to travel and compete," Henderson said.
Henderson would return from Belgium as an international champion.
With a master's degree earned, his daily work to help maintain a fleet of Apaches, and his outstanding skills and teamwork on the basketball court, Henderson both helps the Army attain its goal of readiness and inspires those around him to do so as well.
Henderson said his own inspiration comes from his father, with whom he spent hours on the court playing basketball. Henderson said his early drive to always push himself to the next level hasn't slowed with this achievement.
"My next goal is to direct commission as a health administration professional," he said. "I've always wanted to get involved in the medical profession and continue managing personnel."
With the attention to detail required in aviation and leadership exhibited both on and off the basketball court, Henderson looks forward to whatever challenges lie ahead for him as a member of the U.S. Army.
"I enjoy the great camaraderie and training for a common goal," he said.
In the meantime, you can find him leading a team in repairing rotary wing hubs, transmission parts and other critical components of the aircraft's powertrain system.
Like so many of his brothers and sisters, Henderson comes to his job each day with a wealth of knowledge, a desire to serve his country, and the willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.