Bermudian US Marine stands easy – but plans a new career in education
A Bermudian who joined the United States Marine Corps has stood down from active service after a stellar career of more than 21 years.
But Dathan Byrd, who retired with a doctorate in education and as a senior Non-Commissioned Officer with the rank of Gunnery Sergeant, has not cut his ties with the Corps completely in line with the USMC doctrine of “once a Marine, always a Marine”.
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd, 41, who will remain on the strength of the Corps until the autumn, said he would continue to teach leadership and management as an adjunct faculty member at Davis Defence Group and at the Marine Corps University, the leadership school for enlisted troops.
He said: “I will miss the Marines terribly – it’s been my life for 21 years. I’ve been in uniform more than half my life.
“I will miss the camaraderie and the friendships.
“Outside of my children, nothing compares to the Marine Corps – my doctoral degree doesn’t compare, even.”
But he added: “One thing I won’t miss is being away from my family. That’s one reason I’m glad I’m retiring.”
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd, who was educated at the Whitney Institute and became head boy before he finished school in the US and enlisted in the Marines in 1998, has served in a variety of roles throughout his career.
He has been deployed on active service in Iraq twice and worked as a foreign security force adviser in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd was also Operations Chief – the top adviser on training, including specialised teams – to the Commanding General of the 1 Marine Corps Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton in California.
He was born in Germany to Bermudian mother Debra Byrd, who works with the Bermuda Hospitals Board, and a US Army soldier father and moved to the island when he was aged 7.
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd moved to the US when he was 17, later started university, but left after a year to join the Marines.
He said: “I wanted something more adventurous and joined the Marines in 1998. I needed a challenge and I like structure.
“The Marine Corps was a challenge and it didn’t disappoint.”
He added he promised his mother he would get a degree and left the Corps, although he remained on the active reserve, between 2002-05 to earn a BA in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, but was recalled to the colours for the war in Iraq.
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd said: “There were times I had to stop doing my degree for a couple of months when I was deployed. That wasn’t fun, but I completed it, so that was great.”
He rejoined the Marines afterwards on a full-time basis and later earned a Master’s degree and doctorate in education from the University of Phoenix.
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd, a father-of-three who married his childhood sweetheart Sonia Brites, who he met at the Whitney Institute, said: “It was just perseverance.
“I’ve always had a knack for perseverance and I don’t believe in stopping until I’ve done.”
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd, who has returned to the island on visits, said he planned to take the summer off with his family before he charted a new course in his career.
He added: “I’ve been back home for vacations, but I’ve never been back to live.
“Bermuda is home – I’ve been away it feels like forever, but Bermuda’s where I got my start and where I was inspired to join the Marines.”
He credited Bill Cooke, of the then-agriculture, fisheries and parks department, for his encouragement and help towards a military career.
Gunnery Sergeant Byrd said: “I’m going to try and come home to Bermuda to visit my family, depending on the Covid-19 restrictions.”
He added: “I really enjoy education – that’s what my degree is in.
“I’d like to work in underprivileged communities and bring education to them. That would be my passion.”