Dan’s military career started in the Navy, but his true calling was to the Marine Corps. When a training mission went awry, he sustained an injury that would give him a new outlook on life.
I spent a few years in the Navy before joining the Marine Corps for some real action. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time in the Navy, but I saw the USMC as a chance to really serve my country after witnessing the hate and destruction on September 11. I deployed to a half dozen places in West Africa before mounting up to Iraq with the 24th MEU.
I wanted to make a career out of the Marine Corps, but things took a turn for the worse after one incident on the Iraqi/Jordanian border.
I was on a mounted patrol, on a quick training mission. We were to roll to a position on a hill, deploy our SMAW gunners and mortarmen, and provide security for the Jordanian detail, then head back to the FOB. We were rolling to our objective, when the driver sighted an obstacle in the road. He yanked the 7-ton trunk into a 90-degree hard right going about 40 miles an hour, and it catapulted me into the air.
I landed 40, maybe 50 feet away from the truck, and landed directly on my forehead. I remember hearing someone yell out “ROCKET!” but that was it. I remember nothing else except waking up two days later. Two armed Arab men stood at the foot of my bed when I woke up, and scared me to death. I had no idea where I was.
Turned out I was in a Jordanian hospital, where the doctors told me I had whiplash.The only thing was, I didn’t actually have whiplash. I had three broken vertebrae, plus compression fractures where my face halted my fall. But all that was written in the report was “whiplash,” so a few days later when my unit got called to assist with the evacuation of Lebanon, I was back on my feet with my fellow Marines doing my job. Israel had just stepped up their bombing campaign against Hezbollah militants, and Americans were fleeing the country out of harm’s way.
My unit and I were at work for two more months, but my pain intensified. I’d lost feeling in my feet and hands and could barely walk, much less hold a rifle. Command sent me to Germany to get checked out, and that’s when they discovered the extent of my injuries. I had surgeries to fuse two of the three broken vertebrae, and ended up retiring from the Marine Corps.
After a few years of physical training and therapy, I consider myself lucky to have full mobility. I’ve run a 100-mile ultra-marathon for a local nonprofit, become a USA weightlifting coach, and work to design training programs for the US military, so I can still feel like I’m doing my part. From being in a wheelchair to running 100 miles, I’d say I’m pretty damn lucky indeed. I live in Columbia, SC with my wife and two daughters, who are my whole world.