By Mrs. Valerie Collins (Leonard Wood)August 3, 2017
Capt. Edward McHenry Jr. shaped his life experiences into a hobby.
McHenry is a slam poet, and as he explains, slam poetry is the competitive form of spoken-word poetry.
"Spoken word is, more or less, an art form where poems are performed vocally," McHenry said.
McHenry got his start in 1988, around the age of 10, when the loss of his Family cat inspired a poem. He used pen and paper as an outlet to express his pain.
This pattern continued into middle school where, he said, he got into his first fight at school. Instead of sending him to the principal, his teacher took him aside and told him to write about it.
McHenry recalls the poem being dark and angry, but afterwards his teacher showed him the lesson she wanted him to take away.
"She said 'you did everything on paper and no one got hurt,'" McHenry recalled.
He said it wasn't until years later he realized the importance of what she was trying to teach him. He credits his teachers for recognizing his gift and encouraging him to explore it. As McHenry puts it, they set the foundation for his own style of poetry by assigning him extra assignments outside of the regular homework load.
McHenry would perform his poetry for anyone who would listen. He said instead of singing at talent contests like everyone else, he performed poetry. Unknown to McHenry, his words were being heard by nationally ranked spoken-word poets.
It wasn't long before McHenry decided to compete and was eventually ranked on the national stage, as well.
"My Family valued education," McHenry said.
His father was a rocket scientist who saw life on a molecular level. McHenry jokes about the struggles of trying to have a simple conversation with his dad. His dad would even make his friends look up the meaning of words they did not know in the dictionary.
McHenry met his wife, Jennifer, 16 years ago, while attending college. He impressed her with a poem. Speaking about her and their five children brings a light to his eyes.
Jennifer recalls the day they met, calling him confident.
"I knew I had something good, so I snagged it," she said. "He is everything I could ever imagine and more."
McHenry joined the Army in 2006 as an enlisted Soldier with full support from his Family.
"You can talk about patriotism; you can write about patriotism, but living it is a totally different thing," McHenry said.
In his current assignment, McHenry serves as operations officer with the Directorate of Emergency Services. Before DES, he was the company commander for Company E, 701st Military Police Battalion.
Staff Sgt. Nathan Essig who worked under McHenry for a year, described him as "an excellent leader."
Essig added he was surprised by McHenry's approach to the Soldiers in Co. E.
"He truly knew every individual in that company, and he truly cared," Essig said. "Almost every day, he would walk up to the drill sergeants and tell them how much he appreciates them."
In an effort to change the conversation about sexual assault among the Soldiers at the 701st MP Bn., McHenry started a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention initiative. As part of this initiative, McHenry called on some connections he knew through his slam poetry to perform for his company about their own experiences with sexual assault.
McHenry points out that no one knows the true impacts unless they experience it, and hearing these stories allows Soldiers to experience some of it through someone else.
The other part of this initiative came when McHenry covered a bare wall with teal handprints, which are signed by Soldiers who have taken a pledge to end sexual assault and harassment.
Essig said this SHARP initiative brought about by McHenry is, "more than a PowerPoint class."
"Hearing it from someone who has been through it makes you think," Essig said.
Essig said McHenry's leadership is missed throughout the 701st MP Bn. and the changes he made to better the unit will not be forgotten.
"I would encourage Soldiers to find their outlet, a way to reconnect with their humility, whether it be fishing or spending time at the range," McHenry said.
Poetry is his own outlet, and McHenry is still competing. He calls himself determined, confident and hard working and dedicates his words to those who can feel them.
"I have a unique gift. I can capture what people are feeling or thinking and put it in a way they can't get out of themselves," McHenry said.
He said there is a vulnerability to putting himself out there, but he knows that his poetry has touched those who need it most.
He said, "I try to remember why I wrote (the poem) and the emotional connection I had when I wrote it."
McHenry said he takes pride in sharing his story and plans to keep drawing from his experiences and working to better his craft.