Grad student goes from sergeant first class to Congress hopeful

Speaking with Justin Henry, a Phoenix native from the Mayville area, you would never guess that as a teenager he was labeled a troublemaker. However, the now student at Arizona State University has managed to put his energy toward a path of success both academically and professionally, and has never looked back.  

Upon graduating from high school, Henry enrolled in Glendale Community College (GCC) but lacked the discipline to follow through with his coursework. He soon dropped out and decided to explore the possibility of entering the military. Both his father and grandfather served in the Army, but growing up with asthma, Henry believed he could never follow suit.

After signing a special waiver allowing him to enlist, Henry was soon able to don the fatigues he coveted since childhood. His first deployment after basic training led him to a base in Germany. However, Henry soon found that his old ways were interfering with his duties.

“I was 21, in Germany and liked to have fun. I was constantly getting in trouble and doing a lot of pushups as punishment,” he said.

One night during a routine response to a percussion flare alarm, Henry received the reality check he needed. He says that he stepped out of the military vehicle to find the cause of the breach without his weapon and soon heard what sounded like someone loading a gun. He sprinted back to the vehicle, as he quickly realized the danger he could have been in if there were an actual firefight.

“It dawned on me that I needed to wise up and shift my focus. Once I focused on completing each task that came in, the career progression took care of itself,” he said.

Henry’s new attitude caused him to rise in rank. In less than eight years of service, he has made it to the rank of sergeant first class. His duties were to train the platoon lieutenant and take responsibility for the platoon’s morale, welfare and training.

During his third deployment, Henry received word that his mother had passed away. With his family life already in jeopardy, the news propelled him to leave the service and make his personal life a priority. While in the service, Henry recieved a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Armed Forces Service Medal, National Defense Medal and more.

In 2009 he found himself adjusting to life as a civilian and looking for career options. Henry initially set his sights on law enforcement, but the recession had slowed hiring within the Phoenix Police Department. He then returned to GCC and worked toward completing an associate’s degree.

After that it was on to Sun Devil country as Henry made the transfer to ASU where he completed a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2012. Now a student in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, he has set his sights on a master’s degree with a focus on political science.

“I took a substantial law class that really pulled me back into education," he said. "I learned about this whole network inside our government system that I was completely oblivious to. It fascinated me and I’ve continued to take political courses ever since."

In addition to his studies, Henry is interning with U.S. Rep. Trent Frank (R-AZ). He says that he enjoys learning the ins and outs of policymaking, but moreover enjoys helping citizens who call needing assistance.

“I received a letter from a veteran who was upset over something, but just from my military training I could tell that he was in need of help with post-traumatic stress-related issues. I was able to alert my colleagues and they helped him receive medical attention,” he said.

The experience led to the creation of a procedure manual detailing how similar situations should be handled.

“It’s good to know that we have something like that on hand and that my military background helped in that situation. I enjoy being able to serve the community,” he said.

Henry plans to run for office and find a way to implement a new strategic way of thinking within the political party system.

“It seems that everyone is so focused on lashing back at one another. The Democratic Party will get something passed and the Republican Party will focus on blocking it instead of looking at how they succeeded and how we can do the same. It is the same for the democrats too,” he said.

With this type of determination, Henry is bound to succeed and continue to make his country proud.