Photo Information

U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 3 Deacon Holton, the battalion gunner for 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, poses for a photo at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, May 23, 2024. Holton was recently selected as the recipient of the 2023 Gunner Henry Lewis Hulbert Trophy for Outstanding Leadership for his work while serving with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st MARDIV. Holton is a native of Chelsea, Michigan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alexandra Munoz)

Photo by Sgt. Alexandra Munoz

Gunning for excellence: 1st MARDIV Marine takes home Hulbert trophy for outstanding leadership

31 May 2024 | Sgt. Alexandra Munoz 1st Marine Division

The Marine Corps has just over 110 infantry weapons officers, more commonly known as “gunners.” To put that into perspective, at least 224 football players are drafted into the NFL each year. This means more high-level football players get a shot at the big league each year than there are Marines serving as experts in infantry weapons and tactics at any one time.

In this small, tight-knit and competitive community, standing out is no small accomplishment. Yet each year, one exceptional Marine is chosen to receive the Gunner Henry Lewis Hulbert Trophy for Outstanding Leadership.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Deacon Holton, the battalion gunner for 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, was recently chosen as the 2023 recipient of the Hulbert trophy.

“The award really calls to light how hard gunners are working all across the Marine Corps,” said Holton. “The award, to me, means an opportunity to celebrate the entirety of the gunner community, because they’re all doing such great work,”

The Hulbert trophy is presented in memory of Henry Lewis Hulbert, who earned the Medal of Honor as a private and was one of the first 20 Marines selected to serve as a Marine gunner. Gunner Hulbert was repeatedly recognized for leading from the front where his expertise was needed most and earned a promotion to lieutenant while fighting at Belleau Wood and Soissons during World War I. He was eventually killed in action during the battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in France, Oct. 4, 1918.

Holton, a native of Chelsea, Michigan, has served in the Marine Corps for 22 years and has spent a considerable amount of time in and around the Blue Diamond. He was serving with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, when he was selected to become a gunner, and his first tour as a chief warrant officer was with 1st Bn., 7th Marines.

“Submitting him for the award was just so plainly obvious,” explained Lt. Col. Andrew Hornfeck, the commanding officer for 1st Bn., 7th Marines. “He is the kind of person that deserves to be recognized. I submitted him because he earned it. He’s able to make everyone around him more lethal. His MOS expertise provides him the knowledge to coach and train and enhance their skillset, but it’s his leadership capability that provides him the mechanism to deliver all that information.”

Holton says his leadership philosophy boils down to “it’s not about you.” Putting others before himself comes naturally to him. It is the way he operates in and out of uniform.

“The journey to being submitted and selected for the Hulbert award really begins and ends with doing everything you possibly can for your unit, your commander, and most importantly, the Marines in the formation,” explained Holton. “I strive as much as I can to be accessible.”

Holton did everything except work to be recognized, according to those who’ve served with him. In fact, he was unaware he was being submitted until he was selected at the division level. As humble as he is, everyone who has worked with him can attest to why he earned the recognition.

“He is capable of taking on complex tasks outside of typical gunner subject matter expertise,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ray Browne, the division gunner for 1st MARDIV. “For instance, he successfully led a multinational training exercise planning team, and on top of that he took over and ran a blast overpressure study.”

Beyond his technical expertise in the field, his leadership abilities are what puts him at the top of the list, according to Marines who have served with Holton.

“I think what sets him apart is his genuine concern for developing Marines” explained Maj. Patrick Leet, the operations officer with 1st Bn., 7th Marines. “He was always willing to set aside time to develop, mentor and coach the leaders of the battalion.”

Holton's passion for the infantry and his role as a gunner is easy to see. He wholeheartedly believes being an infantry weapons officer is the best job there is.

"Everybody says they have the best job in the Marine Corps,” said Holton. “And I would offer it’s because they are not gunners."

For Holton, the significance of the Hulbert trophy extends far beyond personal accolades. He points to the Marines he has served with as the reason he earned the award.

"It is incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity to be acknowledged," said Holton. "But as with any trophy, you don’t get there by yourself. It doesn’t actually belong to me. The importance of it has less to do with me as an individual gunner and more to do with gunners across the Marine Corps."

I Marine Expeditionary Force