From Humble Beginnings to Humbling Success

Story Number: NNS180522-09Release Date: 5/22/2018 3:14:00 PM
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By Lieutenant David Carter, Navy Office of Community Outreach

MILLINGTON, Tenn. (NNS) -- It's not long after Command Master Chief Delbert Terrell, Jr. walks into a room that you realize there's something special about him.

There's a quiet confidence and charisma exuding from his attendance alone that speaks volumes about what type of Sailor he is before he even opens his mouth. It's a commanding presence that almost seems to be more inherent than learned.

A native of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, Terrell was inducted into his high school's Hall of Fame during their graduation commencement Saturday. More than 30 years after walking out of the same high school with his own diploma, he found himself as a guest speaker, motivating the Class of 2018 about the journey they'd soon find themselves on. He reminisced with those in attendance, acknowledged teachers and students by name and even told embarrassing stories about his youth and growing up in the small town of 4,500 residents, just outside of Oklahoma City. To those in attendance, including many of his childhood classmates, he was just being the Delbert they'd always known.

"I can't recall any student who was more upbeat and consistently joyful every day than Delbert," said Dr. A. J. Johnson, one of Terrell's high school teachers. "His smile lit up every room and it was usually accompanied by laughter. Even though he had a somewhat tough life, his attitude was always an example to others. I suspect that is one of the main factors that has contributed to his success. I think he was one of the most universally loved kids in the school."

A Navy Seabee by trade, Terrell's storied career spans the globe several times over and includes everything from serving at the White House Communication Agency to real-world operations at the Kuwait/Iraq border in 2003 during the invasion as Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off. Add to that three command master chief tours prior to his current post, and it's safe to say he's been there and done that.

Today, Terrell shares that knowledge, lecturing the Navy's next generation of deck plate leaders within the walls of the U. S. Navy Senior Enlisted Academy in Newport, Rhode Island. Perched above him, ornamented on the wall is a short maxim that reads "Building Tomorrow's Vision through Today's Senior Leadership." For some, the saying may just be a quick inspirational nudge to motivate them between lectures, but for Terrell, it's a call to action-a reminder of the obligation he took on when he assumed the helm as the Academy's director late last year. His leadership abilities; however, are traits he'll tell you are deeply rooted in his family life and the rural Oklahoma community he grew up in.

"My family was extremely respectful and disciplined," said Terrell. "I remember we even had to answer the phone a special way, and as I learned later, it was pretty close to how the military does it. I wasn't allowed to answer a call until I could say: 'Good Afternoon, Terrell Residence this is Delbert Jr. speaking.' That was a big deal as a kid."

In addition to the example his family set for him, Terrell also credits the tight-knit community of Kingfisher with their role in shaping who he'd become.

"Everyone knows everyone here and there's a lot of trust within the community" said Terrell. "It's a hard-working group of people who are willing to help you out, while expecting nothing in return other than a smile and a 'thank you.' At the same time, nothing was ever given to you, and you always had to work for it and earn it. My teachers, coaches and other parents helped instill that work ethic in me that naturally carried over into the military.

Terrell is often referred to as a motivator by his fellow Sailors for his innate ability to bring a team together. He's the one many refer to as their mentor, and he naturally sets the example others try to emulate. Terrell's history in teambuilding, though, started long before he joined the Navy.

"With his good humor and attitude, he was able to calm situations, and he would not tolerate anyone behaving disrespectfully toward other students or their teachers," said Johnson. "He was just one of those students who, without formal designation, held the student body together and helped everyone navigate the minefields that high school can be."

The induction ceremony was Terrell's second trip to Kingfisher over the past year. He previously served as a hometown Sailor during Oklahoma City Navy Week in 2017. During that event, he was honored as Kingfisher's Grand Marshall during their homecoming parade and honorary Team Captain during the school's football game. Additionally, he received a proclamation from the city's mayor recognizing him for his service.

Terrell emphasized the importance of maintaining his connection to the city and its people, and it was inevitable that those enduring relationships would lead to his induction into the Hall of Fame. Lori Johnson, a longtime friend of Terrell and leader within Kingfisher High School initiated his nomination earlier this year. As a childhood classmate of his, Johnson epitomized the sense of community Terrell so fondly talks about. Regrettably, Johnson wasn't able to see his induction as she lost a courageous battle with cancer in April. Terrell dedicated his acceptance speech to her and told attendees he hoped it would motivate and inspire them.

Even with all of his successes in the Navy on a global scale, the significance and importance of small-town recognitions in his hometown are not lost on him. In fact, he'll tell you they're his most important achievements.

"This is by far the greatest recognition I've received," said Terrell. "No one is successful by themselves, and just as I always have my fellow Sailors to thank for my accomplishments in the service, I have the Kingfisher community to thank for this. I got it, it is my name on this award, but I know in my heart without a doubt, it is because of them that I am here today."

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