Parkersburg High School graduate reaches highest warrant officer rank

U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jon Heinrich Chief Warrant Officer five Mark Parr, right, receives a copy of the Command Chief Warrant Officer Charter from 8th Theater Sustainment Command Commanding General Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson, left, in April as part of the Command Chief Warrant Officer Change of Responsibility ceremony.

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Stories are often told of people who follow dreams … dreams they have had for years … dreams they have planned.

Raised and educated in Parkersburg, Command Chief Warrant Officer Five Mark Parr, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, said he doesn’t fit that mold.

Looking back over his career thus far, he said he never could have imagined what these 24 years had in store for him. While the path isn’t what he pictured when he raised his hand to defend his country more than two decades ago, he’s proud of the path he’s followed and the dreams he’s realized.

A Chief Warrant Officer Five is the highest rank a warrant officer can achieve in the Army. While most commands have the traditional commanding general and command sergeant major, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command puts special emphasis on the critical roles warrant officers play. The command chief warrant officer position Parr assumed in May allows him to provide expert advice to the command group and staff as well as the responsibility for overseeing the professional development of warrant officers across the command and Pacific region.

Born in Gardena, Calif., and moving to Turkey at just 17 days old, Parr’s world travels started at a young age. Once his father retired from the Air Force when he was 5, he experienced something many military children, including his own never have, growing up in the same house from Kindergarten through graduation from Parkersburg High School in 1989.

U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Behlin Chief Warrant Officer Five Mark Parr, the commander chief warrant officer for the 8th Theater Sustainment Command was promoted to his current rank in May by his family during a ceremony at Fort Shafter.

Far removed from the Air Force his father served in for so many years, as a 10-year-old in Parkersburg, Parr dreamt of flying the Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle. Certain he would someday be a pilot, his young world was crushed when his brother told him his eyesight was too bad to pursue those dreams.

“He was right. It took me a long time as a child to recover and figure out my next passion,” Parr said.

Loving the outdoors, he spent much of his youth outside. He became very involved in Boy Scouts. Parr said he enjoyed the camaraderie and the life-skills taught. He went on to receive his Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable.

Despite growing up in a community that did not see a lot of turnover, Parr said, “I was the guy who was easily overlooked by most, but known to many. I survived though and probably came out better for it. It taught me the value of true friendship.”

Parr eventually found his place in the band. A self-proclaimed “band geek,” music became a driving factor in his life. He took part in every aspect of band, from marching to concert to jazz. While he admits this didn’t involve the “in” crowd at his school, he said the students were tight-knit and he values all the friendships he made during those years, many that endure still today.

He continued his passion through college at West Virginia University with the marching band. Playing the trombone for 10 years, Parr said unfortunately he was not at the right point in his life to focus on much beyond the band in college.

Needing a change, in 1992 he decided to take what he thought would be a four-year hiatus from college and join the Army.

“While my dad was an Air Force veteran, the Army offered more college money,” he said. “And once recruiters showed me a video of ammunition specialists blowing things up, I was sold. The job looked pretty cool and I signed up much to the delight of my mother. She loved the military life and traveling the world and wanted me to experience the same as I was so young when my dad retired.”

Just as his initial enlistment was to end and he planned to head back to college, Parr was offered the opportunity to reclassify as a broadcast journalist. Taking the carrot and reenlisting, Parr said he then experienced what he believes to be “the best enlisted job in the Army.”

“Being a broadcaster allowed me to see what everyone else does in the military and then tell the world how great they are at doing those jobs. I loved being on television and reporting the news and sharing the missions and stories of our men and women in uniform.”

After working as a broadcaster for several years, Parr was uncertain what was next for him. Newly married to another military member, an airman, with whom he shared a baby daughter, Parr was faced with several paths and now a family to consider.

As his assignment at Aviano Air Base, Italy, neared an end, he was again made an offer he could not refuse — special duty to Armed Forces Radio and Television Services in Alexandria, Va. With his wife also offered a special duty assignment in the nation’s capital, he said the choice for them was “a no brainer.” With their family soon settled, Parr gave little thought to his future outside of being a broadcaster.

But then one day, he said, a phone call changed it all.

“I was at work and my wife called. She asked if I happened to read the comments on my leave and earnings statement. With us belonging to two military services and our second child on the way, we knew it was best for our family if one of us separated so we didn’t have to risk being stationed in different locations. We were exploring our options. She then told me the Army was looking for warrant officers and I should apply.

“Remembering my childhood dreams of being a pilot, I thought briefly ‘What if?’ yet realistically I knew it just wasn’t possible. As there are no public affairs or broadcast warrant officers, my wife said, ‘What about ammo?’

“Thinking I’d been out of the career field for too long, I made some phone calls and as luck would have it, at the time Chief Warrant Officer Four Bob Fairhurst made a few inquiries about me and wrote my recommendation letter. When the board met, I was selected. Because of his faith in me all those years ago, I’ve spent my entire career as a warrant officer trying to make sure I never made him regret that decision.”

While he spent time as a broadcaster in Bosnia, covered the Kosovo Campaign from Italy, and even the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, Parr said he looks back proudly over his time as a broadcaster and the experiences made. But it was his time as an accountable officer of the Corps ammunition storage area in Iraq that he considers one of his greatest professional achievements.

During this time, Parr oversaw a $400 million account and had 99.3 percent inventory accuracy throughout his 14 months in that position. While this is an accomplishment in itself, he said what was more rewarding was the hard work and development of his soldiers.

“The part that made me the proudest was watching the soldiers who did the work transform from inexperienced ammunition specialists into a highly trained, professional workforce that could accomplish any mission regardless of the situation,” Parr said.

This deployment provided fond memories for him of his unit’s soldiers learning a few things about warrant officer stereotypes.

“When I was a young warrant officer, all the soldiers wanted to be the chief,” he said. “Young soldiers thought we had it easy, believing the chiefs could do whatever they wanted. They didn’t understand all that we were actually doing and the responsibility it entailed. Then we deployed. That’s when reality really set in for the soldiers. They watched us work 18 to 20 hour days for weeks on end. I asked them again about half way through the deployment who wanted to be a warrant officer. No one was volunteering then,” he joked.

A firm believer in the Army value integrity, the 2005 Pike’s Peak Community College graduate said even today he laughs and shrugs off the stereotypes often placed on warrant officers. He said he doesn’t believe in taking them too seriously, and at the end of the day they’re just that, stereotypes.

“I believe our actions and deeds speak louder than any joke. Warrant officers are the smallest cohort in the Army, barely 3 percent of the force,” said Parr. “But we are more responsible for the accountability, maintenance and care of materials and operations in the Army than any other cohort. We are instrumental in the logistics plans and execution.”

Parr said he’s also encountered stereotypes from people outside the military.

“We are people just like every civilian out there. We laugh, we love, we cry, we feel. This is what people need to understand about military members,” he said. “The only difference is we wear a very specific uniform to work every day. We live our lives according to an oath and we attempt to ensure the freedoms that people enjoy are protected on a daily basis, both here and around the world. Freedom … true freedom takes sacrifice.”

Parr said it’s that sacrifice he sees daily from military members and their families, including his own, that he finds inspiring and the reason why he strives to do his part in making the organization the best it can be.

He also admits to having a competitive drive.

“At my core, I’m a fierce competitor. I think that’s part of what’s driven me to my current position,” Parr said of his command team role.

Sometimes feeling he’s gone about things the hard way, he often tells his children to not follow his path. Encouraging them to start and complete college the first time and not be like him having to juggle a family, military career and multiple deployments.

“It was hard work managing everything and earning my degree,” he said. “But, despite everything, I would not change a thing because I am the product of my experiences and lessons learned.”

Now, at the pinnacle of his career, Parr admits he’s wondered when he should retire.

“I never say I’m going to retire at a certain time, but I always make plans for the future,” he said.

While he doesn’t know that answer, one thing he’s learned with certainty throughout his career is dreams and paths often change.

“It’s so important to not focus on following a set mold,” he said. “Just because something worked for one person doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. Break the mold. Blaze your own trail and follow your dreams.”