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Why Gibbs' Marine Rank Bothers NCIS Fans

Over its impressive 17 seasons (and counting), NCIS has stood atop the police procedural mountain. The long-running series has a serious knack for not only making the crime drama stories important, but also giving its principal cast fully-realized backstories. One of the few drawbacks to this is that, now and again, issues arise regarding minor character details that leave fans scratching their heads.

One of the main characters of NCIS is Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), often referred to simply as "Gibbs" or "a man with few words" by his team. He's the no-nonsense leader of the Major Case Response Team, with a backlog of experience in both the military and as a NIS Special Agent. These credentials are part of what made Gibbs such an effective boss (in addition to his overall demeanor), and he was often touted by his co-workers as the most capable and accomplished of them all.

In the NCIS universe, Gibbs began his military training in 1976, right after he graduated high school at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. He later served as a member of the United States Military Police Corps before taking part in Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm before his honorable discharge in 1992. Such a resume is nothing to sniff at, but there's one aspect of Gibbs' past as a Marine that's causing something of a stir amongst the NCIS faithful.

Gibbs' status as a Gunnery Sergeant

Gibbs left his Marine life behind after killing Mexican cartel leader Pedro Hernandez, the man responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. Despite the circumstances of Gibbs' departure, some NCIS fans feel it's a bit odd that after 16 years in the service, he stayed in the rank of Gunnery Sergeant — above Staff Sergeant and below First Sergeant and Master Sergeant. One viewer in particular has wondered why Gibbs didn't do a little more climbing in the ranks before he cycled out of the Corps. 

User u/JoePuthoff took to Reddit to pose the question. "I'm watching a lot of reruns now and something bothers me. Gibbs was a Gunny (Gunnery) Sergeant in the Marines. With all his dedication, skill and leadership ability, why didn't he earn a higher rank?" they wrote in a post within the NCIS subreddit. "He interacts effectively with captains and colonels as special agent Gibbs."

Possible explanations why Gibbs remained a Gunnery Sergeant

In response, another Redditor noted that perhaps Gibbs didn't move up from the rank of Gunnery Sergeant because of what happened with his family that caused him to resign early: "It's been a long time since the Gibbs flashbacks were a big part of the show. If I'm remembering everything correctly, I'd say he probably left the Marines after his family were killed. Either finished his current enlistment or was granted an early out for hardship."

Obviously, one can't exactly move up the ranks in the Marines if they're no longer part of the Marines. Some fans have also noted that perhaps Gibbs wanted to move up from Gunnery Sergeant in the future, but those plans changed when his wife and daughter died and he left the Marines.

On the flip side, there's a chance that Gibbs felt happy, accomplished, and fulfilled being a "Gunny" — and that's not far-fetched in the least, as the rank comes with a great deal of responsibility. According to Military.com, the Gunnery Sergeant rank is "considered the backbone of the Marine Corps Staff NCO (SNCO) ranks," and those who hold that rank are "expected to bring their years of experience to bear in quick, accurate decisions that are in the best interest of the mission and their Marines." Gunnery Sergeants "set the example of leadership and professionalism for their subordinates," and must ensure that work areas and facilities are up to standard, equipment is maintained, their subordinates are following orders, and the day-to-day unit operation (which they plan and conduct) runs smoothly in accordance to senior officers' policies. A rank like that is nothing to turn a nose up at. 

Another possible reason why Gibbs didn't move up from Gunnery Sergeant to Master Sergeant or First Sergeant is because it takes many years to even reach the Gunnery Sergeant rank. One real-life Marine noted that it took them just over 12 years to become a Gunny; for another, it took 13 years. A Redditor wrote in response to u/JoePuthoff's initial question, "Gibbs left the Corps after 16 years. The average time to attain the rank of Gunnery Sergeant is almost 15 years." If Gibbs became a Gunnery Sergeant somewhere between his 12th and his 15th year in the Corps, there wouldn't have been much time to advance. 

Whatever the case may be, Gibbs continued to prove his skills post-Marines, becoming the NCIS Special Agent fans know and love today.