PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- Ensign Marquay Byrd never expected he would become a naval officer.
His original plan did not include signing a contract as a cryptologic warfare officer. As he worked his way through college to earn his degree in applied physics, he never anticipated to one day be sitting in a classroom at a place called Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Corry Station learning the skills he would need to become a leader in the Navy’s information warfare community. When Byrd entered Coastal Carolina University, he had one goal: to never see his family struggle again.
Raised in an impoverished neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Byrd was born into a world of adversity. Fights at school, gang activity, drug dealing, break-ins and murder were facts of life for people where he grew up, and he realized early on that he would need to be tough to survive.
“Growing up, I remember seeing people selling crack right outside of my house,” said Byrd. “We had our house broken into numerous times. I watched all my friends get involved with gangs and I knew they were making money, but even though I was still going to school with the same clothes from the previous year, I knew I didn’t want that life for myself and my family. I didn’t have any role models growing up, so I had to become my own.”
Byrd would soon meet the role model he needed when, at thirteen, he and his family moved to Gaffney, South Carolina to a local women’s shelter. During this time, he was introduced to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and it was through them he would meet his first mentor, Tuck Swanger. A welder by trade and former boxer, Swanger offered the children boxing lessons, which Byrd accepted. Byrd would soon learn to not only harness his fighting ability, but that a sense of pride and personal accomplishment was possible even for a kid off the streets. He would later win the Silver Gloves boxing tournament in Augusta, Georgia, and eventually place in the Golden Gloves tournament.
“Tuck (Swanger) wasn’t a rich man, but he bought all of the equipment with his own money to teach us how to box,” said Byrd. “He would pay for us to go to all of these boxing tournaments, including our food and hotel rooms, and he even paid for my shoes since I didn’t have money for them. Most importantly though, he recognized that I was also a smart kid, and he would make sure that I was staying on top of my school work and getting my homework done before practice. He taught me that in boxing and in life, you always have to think three steps ahead before you take the next step or you’re going to lose the fight.”
Realizing his potential, Byrd set the goal for himself to be the first member of his family to attend college. In 2012, he enrolled in Coastal Carolina University in the physics and engineering science programs, and additionally minored in mathematics. He wanted to major in these areas because they were the most difficult programs at this institution, and in doing so, this would guarantee his financial future. However, he was never afforded the opportunity to take any advanced math and science courses in high school, so he found himself behind the curve early on and needing to catch up with his classmates. With no financial support, he would also need to find steady income. Byrd worked three separate jobs while pursuing these degrees.
“One day, the Department of Physics and Engineering Science Chair Brian Bunton sat me down and told me how difficult this program was and that I would need to devote everything to making it through. I was in the physics suite every single day. Some days my professors would come in for work and see that I fell asleep in there,” said Byrd.
His hard work would soon pay off and his next life changing opportunity. Before graduating in 2017 he worked as a Research Assistant at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aviation & Aerospace Technology. Then in 2018, he worked at the McNair Aerospace Center of Columbia, South Carolina, while in pursuit of a master’s degree. During this time, he was invited to attend the annual National Naval Officer Association conference in San Diego, California, by retired Navy Cmdr. Robert Clements. Byrd said this would serve as the catalyst for his future naval career.
In April 2018, he was accepted into the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, and in October 2018, he earned his commission as a naval officer. After commissioning, Byrd completed the Division Officer Leadership Course, Information Warfare Basic Course and Cryptologic Warfare Officer Basic Course. His initial assignment as a cryptologic warfare officer is with Cryptologic Warfare Activity 66 Fort Meade, Maryland, where he will report for duty the week of Feb. 18.
“It’s not often that people are willing to share a story like this with their peers and with the world,” said Cmdr. Chad Smith, IWTC Corry Station’s commanding officer. “His upbringing taught him a tremendous amount about what we refer to as ‘grit’ at our command. It’s the response to adversity and the ability to get knocked down and get back up and win. He has experienced this his entire life, and going forward, his ‘grit’ will serve him well as a Navy leader.”
For Byrd, the circumstances leading him to serve the Navy came about during a fortunate time in a particularly challenging life. However, his story of success wasn’t the result of luck. It was his drive and persistence throughout a lifetime of struggle that allowed him to face the challenge of becoming a naval officer, and that same motivation now pushes him towards his future as a leader and mentor for junior Sailors.
“Many people growing up in situations like mine get caught up in thinking there’s no way out, and I want to be able to show them that there are options to life other than those of the impoverished street environments. There are people out there that come from nothing and end up being doctors, engineers and physicists, and I hope I may help inspire youth to achieve noble dreams and aspirations from hearing my story.”
Information Warfare Training Command Corry Station, as part of the Center for Information Warfare Training (CIWT), provides a continuum of training to Navy and joint service personnel that prepares them to conduct information warfare across the full spectrum of military operations.
With four school house commands, two detachments, and training sites throughout the United States and Japan, CIWT is recognized as Naval Education and Training Command’s top learning center for the past two years. Training over 21,000 students every year, CIWT delivers trained information warfare professionals to the Navy and joint services. CIWT also offers more than 200 courses for cryptologic technicians, intelligence specialists, information systems technicians, electronics technicians, and officers in the information warfare community.
For more news from Center for Information Warfare Training, visit www.navy.mil/local/cid/.