As the battlefield settled and the medevac carried Cpl. Brad Fite to Germany, medical personnel didn’t think he would survive. The damage was so extensive, Fite had to be resuscitated three times before landing.
“They didn’t think I would survive, but I did,” Fite said. “ After I got to Germany, they said I wouldn’t walk again and I spent a lot of time in a wheelchair, but eventually I taught myself to walk again.”
Like Fite, there are many Marines who are knocked down, but get back up to compete, motivate others and live their lives to the fullest.
Fite still goes through therapy, but participates in wheelchair basketball as well as regular basketball and competed in swimming at the 2012 Marine Corps Trials.
Fite, an amphibious assault vehicle crewmember, was hit by an improvised explosive device in Marjah, Afghanistan, July 2010. He suffered a broken spine that tore open his stomach and punctured a lung. His other lung collapsed. His shoulder and jaw were dislocated, nine of his ribs were broken and his knee ligaments were torn. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and a hearing impairment.
Fite has come a long way, and said he has received a lot of support inside and outside the Marine Corps. He credits the recovery to his will power that pushed him to keep fighting and never stop.
One opportunity all wounded Marines have to rehabilitate themselves is the Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program. As soon as Marines are cleared physically, they are required to start trying sports until they find one they like.
“Everyone is required to be part of the WAR-Program,” said Maj. Susan Stark, the officer in charge of the WAR-Program. “Our goal isn’t to get them competing; our goal is to get wounded warriors to complete a goal.”
The program is designed to help wounded warriors achieve something physically and get them back into a goal-oriented mindset, Stark said.
“They need to have a goal,” Stark said. “It can be paddling down the Mississippi River, competing in the Marine Corps Trials or anything in between.”
Some wounded warriors set goals for themselves that aren’t just physical.
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Mackey lost both his legs from an IED blast. But this setback didn’t change Mackey’s desire to lead and mentor Marines.
He made it his goal to help every Marine he meets.
“Marines are Marines,” Mackey said. “Sometimes, they need help, and sometimes, they just need guidance.
“Life’s not over,” Mackey said. “You can motivate anybody. To inspire somebody is completely different. You can motivate them to come out and play wheelchair basketball, but you can inspire them for a lifetime.”
Though Mackey is set to retire soon, he hopes to continue working with Marines for years to come.
Wounded Marines receive a lot of support when it comes to recovery, though not all wounds are from combat.
At first glance, many assume Lance Cpl. Chuck Sketch received his injuries while serving in a combat zone. Sketch, however, never served overseas. Instead, while Sketch was on leave before heading to his first duty station, doctors discovered a benign tumor on the side of his head. In four and a half years, the tumor turned cancerous, claiming his sight and later both of his legs due to blood clots.
In a short time, things that had once been so easy for Sketch suddenly looked impossible. But Sketch couldn’t be kept down.
“I’ve definitely been able to overcome my injuries,” Sketch said. “In all honesty, people who have all their limbs are missing out. If I had all my limbs, I never would have had these opportunities.”
One such opportunity is competing in the Marine Corps Trials and Warrior Games. Sketch swam in the 50-meter and 100-meter
freestyles and competed in the hand bike race as the only tandem cyclist.
Some Marines compete in track and field nationals, some compete in National Paralympics; one even rode his bike across the state, Stark said. Another wanted to shoot a moose; the WAR-program set him up with a hunting program to help him accomplish that goal.
“Being a wounded warrior put me in a worldwide group, not just Americans,” Fite said. “It’s our own community, and it’s an intense community. Whether we’ve lost limbs or not, we’ve all been through it, and we all choose to stick together.”
These wounded warriors are a few examples of the perseverance of fortunate Marines – Marines who have suffered but came out of it ahead. Their common experiences and difficulties as wounded warriors is a bond not shared by most other groups.
They may have been injured but, as Fite said, “We’re still a part of the fight.”