News: Alabama Marine uses gift of encouragement in Helmand
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Those who work with Mario T. Handley on a daily basis clearly see there is something different about him. Being a Marine is not about doing a job for this Birmingham, Ala., native, but rather an opportunity to fulfill his purpose in life.
Corporal Handley, an administrative clerk with Headquarters Battalion (Forward), 2nd Marine Division (Forward), said he feels he was called to the Marine Corps, not just to improve upon himself, but to use his faith to encourage his fellow servhgtice members and uplift their spirits.
Handley, who graduated from A.H. Parker High School in 2007, was attracted to the Marine Corps because of the leadership and stability the organization offers. He said after considering his options and praying, he felt he was called to be a Marine, even though his cousin in the Army tried to convince him otherwise.
“I talk to my cousin every now and then, and she is an (Army) lieutenant colonel at the Pentagon,” said Handley, who joined the Marine Corps in April 2009. “(She) tried her best to get me to join the Army before I enlisted. I felt that it was meant for me to join the Marine Corps rather than the Army because I approached the situation with prayer; I believe I was divinely led to the Marine Corps.”
He said he likes being a Marine because he gets to know so many other people and is able to fellowship with his brothers and sisters from different walks of life. He said fellowship with his fellow Marines is one of the greatest gifts he could ask for.
Everyone experiences life’s struggles, but Handley said in the Marine Corps there is always someone you can fellowship with no matter who they are or where they come from, and he believes he is that someone for many Marines within his battalion.
Handley’s position in the administration section gives him the opportunity to interact with the diverse cultures and ethnic groups that constitute the Corps. He is responsible for preparing administrative correspondence, handling pay entitlements, awards, and any other administrative issues Marines might bring to him.
“Corporal Handley's performance, character and personality speak for itself. He is one of very few corporals that can produce and run an admin shop by himself,” said Staff Sgt. Aqueel Freeman, a Columbus, Ga., native and the administration section chief. “He is calm and keeps his cool under stress, yet at the same time he has the means to find words of inspiration.”
Handley said working in the administration section is not a one-man show. All the Marines in the section make huge contributions to the battalion, but he also tries to bring a different essence of camaraderie to the battalion.
He said he tries to keep morale high and believes his purpose in life is to be a mentor and motivator. He added that when he sees a Marine’s motivation level decline, he talks to him or her, reminding the individual of positive aspects to focus on.
“Corporal Handley's spiritual motivation keeps everyone's head up in the administration section,” said Freeman, Handley’s direct supervisor. “There are days when we are down, overwhelmed with work, and the pressure of the leadership is on his shoulders, but he relies on his bible and recites scriptures to keep the Marines motivated.”
“Once you feel like you’ve been given a gift, you feel responsible for using that gift. I feel like I should take on that responsibility,” said Handley, who affirmed his spiritual gift is encouragement. “I feel like since that is the person I’ve always been … that should be my main contribution. When something is a part of you, you can’t help but express that to other people.”
Handley said some Marines he has spoke to when the deployment seemed to drag on for them became more optimistic after an encouraging word or two.
”Anxiety brings depression to the heart, but a good word can make it glad,” said Handley, as he paraphrased a bible verse from the Book of Proverbs. “I always try to be a person who can give a good word in a time of need.”
Though he said he is blessed with the gift of encouragement, it does not make him immune to having struggles of his own. Being away from everything near and dear to his heart has been difficult for Handley.
“My greatest challenge since I’ve been out here is trying to overcome the feeling of being isolated from friends and family,” said Handley, who is 22 years old. “I try to stay occupied and keep my mind occupied.”
Handley said reading books, socializing and studying the word of God is how he spends a majority of his time outside of work. It has worked so far for him, and he is making some good friends in the process.
“You want to be as socially active as you can; it brings that connection, the human interaction we all need,” said the University of Alabama football fan. “I’ve been blessed to find a couple like-minded people out here. It has been a pleasure to sit down and communicate with them; it is just a comfort to know there are people out there like you and believe in the same things you do.”
Handley attributes his ideas, lifestyle and even religious faithfulness to one source: his mother.
“The word of God says you should train a child in a way that he should go, and later in life, he will not depart from those paths,” said Handley. “I will say that is true because everything she has taught me, I’ve kept it until now.”
He said he only speaks to his family, particularly his mother, about once a week if his work schedule allows for it. He noted he wants his mother to understand how her guidance and teachings have affected his life, in turn affecting everyone around him.
“I am trying to be the best man that she raised me to be. All the things she has instilled in me have not gone lost. It lives in me and shows the person that I am,” said the devoted son. “I greatly appreciate everything she has done for me. She has been there unconditionally supplying me with the greatest gift of all, which is love.”
Editor’s Note: Headquarters Battalion (Forward) is attached to 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.