Wounded Veteran: 'We Have To Protect Our Own And Honor The Fallen' (Task and Purpose)
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Marines are renowned for fighting their nation’s battles with unwavering devotion. Their commitment to the Corps has been apparent since the legendary campaigns in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and in current operations worldwide.
The Marine Corps’ most-precious commodity is the approximately 183,000 Marines who make up its ranks and who help keep the nation safe. Marine Corps Corporal Brian Williams, the driver for Major General Daniel J. O’Donohue, the 1st Marine Division’s commanding general here, finds his own unique way to express his dedication to the Corps.
Playing football is “definitely an outlet,” Williams said. “It makes [physical training] fun and more enjoyable than running three miles every day.”
Football Requires Focus
Williams is a wide receiver on the Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division’s tackle football team, the Wolverines. He said his love for the game keeps him engaged in practice and during games.
Playing football requires focus and attention to detail, Williams said. Football players must be aware of formations, designated receiver routes and their overall role on the team.
Williams said he is dedicated to his team, but his duties as a Marine always come first. The Atlanta native ties his life of wearing shoulder pads to his desire to wear his eagle, globe and anchor insignia.
“It makes me a better Marine from a discipline aspect,” Williams said. “When playing football, you’re always moving and required to think on your feet. Just like Marines -- move fast, think fast.”
Earning a place on a football team takes dedication and commitment, Williams said. The team is dependent on the “one team, one fight” concept that Marines live by every day.
“Being out there with your boys, you don’t want to let them down by not showing up or saying that you’re too tired to play,” Williams said. “You have these guys looking to you to be there and help the team out.”
Part of what contributes to the success of most Marines is proper mentorship. Growing up, Williams said he always looked up to his father who helped him build the skills and mentality needed to be a successful Marine and football player.
“My Dad … has always motivated me,” Williams said with a smile. “He motivated me as I grew up -- like when he told me to do push-ups all the time. He just motivated me to be better and be the best I can.”
Williams said he always gives 100 percent when motivating the Marines around him.
“I think that you have to have a lot of discipline to play sports,” he said. “It relates to being a Marine. Not to jump the gun and mess up. It’s the same on the battlefield, because you have to know your role and have discipline while you do it.”
Through the shared pains, grass stains and patching of scrapes and bruises, Williams and his gridiron gang have established a way to become a sturdier, sharper group of Marines and come together as a capable team.
When senior Midshipman Rylan Tuohy applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, part of his inspiration to serve came from the service of his uncle, Marine Corps Private First Class Albert Schwab, who was killed in action and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a flamethrower operator during World War II.
Tuohy, a native of Greenville, Kentucky, attended the 18th Annual American Veterans Center Conference with his classmates at the U.S. Naval Heritage Center, Nov. 6-7, 2015. One of the last things he expected was to come face to face with a living Medal of Honor recipient who visited with his family in 1946. Tuohy said he instinctively knew that retired Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Hershel “Woody” Williams knew his uncle.
“There was that sense of connection immediately,” said Tuohy. “Even though there are decades between us, it was almost right then and there. He stopped and looked at me and immediately said, ‘I was at his dedication in Tulsa.’ My grandfather was in Tulsa so to think that all these miles apart, but yet we’re connected by this common theme, this sense of service was just incredible. I know I would never have experienced that if it weren’t for this conference.”
Williams said he has worn the medal for Tuohy’s uncle and his fellow Marines.
“In these 70 years that I’ve possessed the medal, I have said from day one, I do not wear it for what I did, I wear it for those who didn’t get to come home,” said Williams.
Williams was one of more than two dozen speakers at the American Veterans Center Conference who shared their stories of perseverance, resilience and bravery under the most perilous battlefield conditions.
Like Schwab, Williams was a flamethrower operator as well and fought for weeks clearing out machine gun nests under heavy enemy fire. Williams landed on Iwo Jima in February 1945 and fought until he was wounded a month later. By April, Schwab landed on the shores of Okinawa and fought until his death in May 1945. According to his Medal of Honor Citation, Schwab destroyed two strategic Japanese gun positions, saving the lives of his fellow Marines and allowing his company to advance.
While much of the conference covered battlefield bravery, it also focused on the courageous contributions of female leaders in the military and lessons in leadership for future officers.
“I just think we’re really fortunate to have the emphasis be on exposure to midshipmen and to cadets in this conference and that we are granted this access to learn from those who have served and who are serving,” Tuohy added.
The president and founder of the American Veterans Center, James C. Roberts said stories like these fortify future officers for challenges they’ll face.
“You can learn an awful lot from what’s gone on before,” said Roberts. “I think that’s what these young people take away from this when they hear these amazing experiences from veterans who said we were just ordinary people and we were put in circumstances and we did our duty."
More than 400 midshipmen and cadets from the U.S. military service academies, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and more than 20 multi-service ROTC commissioning programs attended and participated in the conference.
Roberts, a former Navy officer and veteran of the Vietnam War, said the experience will broaden their horizons and help them become better leaders.
“I think it’s really essential that future military leaders have an opportunity to not only hear from great military leaders from the past, but also have an opportunity to meet them one-on-one and to talk to them, ask questions and try to discover the secrets of command and secrets of success that these older generations of veterans have,” said Roberts.
The conference started with a panel discussion on wartime injuries and the difficult journey to recovery.
“I had never seen a panel like that before where they had people who were wounded in combat,” said Cadet Raymond D. Dilworth from Bells, Texas, a decorated combat-wounded soldier who is currently participating in the Army’s Green to Gold program with Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets.
“When I was in the Wounded Warrior Transition Battalion, they talked about speaking up about your stuff. Don’t keep it inside because then it’s going to start eating away at you.”
Dilworth said listening to others made him realize that his own personal journey to a full recovery is still evolving.
“Seeing them in this setting with all of these people in there just sharing their stories openly and talking about some of the hard things that we go through and how they overcame it was a huge help to me,” Dilworth added. “I actually went down and talked to a couple of them afterwards. Even four years later, I’m still learning things.”
Dilworth enlisted in the Army after graduating high school in 2009 as a combat medic and deployed to Afghanistan where he was wounded by an enemy grenade. Despite his injuries, Dilworth treated himself and two other soldiers injured in the attack.
“We all three made it but it was a day that I will always remember,” Dilworth said.
After several surgeries and months of rehabilitation at the Wounded Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Dilworth kept pushing to stay in the service against advice from doctors who suggested he be medically retired. Against the odds, he went on to become a Green Beret and Army Ranger. Now, he is set on earning his commission and continue doing what he loves — being a soldier.
Dilworth said his decision to join the military was deeply influenced by the kindness his family received from U.S. soldiers in Palermo during the Allied invasion of Sicily in World War II.
“My grandfather was just a young child,” said Dilworth. “So when the American soldiers came in, they were nice and played soccer with him and gave him candy.
During his deployment, Dilworth said he played cricket with local children and felt like he made a lasting difference like the one made with his family. “I always knew I wanted to join the military and possibly do that for someone else.”
As he spoke with soldiers who served during the invasion of Sicily in 1943, he wondered, “…is this one of those soldiers who was so good to my grandfather and my family and is the reason why I’m here and who I am today?”
Before former Army Captain Gregory David Estevez removed his uniform for the last time, the Army worked to ensure he was able to achieve a stable return to civilian life.
Estevez, who had served as an operations officer for the Joint Base San Antonio Warrior Transition Battalion, sustained injuries during his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It can take time, sometimes months or even years, before wounded service members can make the transition from military to civilian life. Estevez credited the success of his transition to many things, including in-depth treatment, his family, physical therapy and an upbringing that emphasized the value of hard work.
Estevez began his transition at the transition battalion’s headquarters company, where he was greeted and registered.
“…There are a lot of appointments that are scheduled to develop their plan for treatment based on their injury,” said Army Captain Randal W. Maurer, commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion. “Once that plan of care is developed, they will go to the line company based on their injuries. They will continue their treatment, eventually allowing them to return to the Army or transition into the civilian world.”
Estevez worked with Army, civilian and contractor staff during his transition, and Opal J. Charles, the warrior transition liaison, served as the link between Estevez and his family when they needed the support. Charles works with different organizations to provide support services to the families of the wounded and helps families who work and cannot take time off.
“I provide all the things the family [needs] that is not a traditional benefit to these families through the government,” Charles said.
Georgeann Jackson is an assigned nurse case manager whose responsibilities include receiving and analyzing each case to ensure that every service member obtains the proper care. This can be a challenge, because military personnel are sometimes not forthright about everything that may be affecting their recovery, she said.
“We have to listen to the service member and try to find out what they are not talking about to determine their true problems,” Jackson said.
Estevez met, throughout his transition, with Jackson to talk.
“She is the checks and balances in the system and says, ‘Hey you need to see this doctor or take this physical therapy,’” Estevez said.
“We have to know as much as possible about the patient,” Jackson said.
The Warrior Transition Battalion provides different types of physical therapy treatments and practices, including track and field exercises, archery and swimming. Through the interviews and counseling, Estevez chose horseback riding as one of his physical therapy treatments at the WTB.
“We have to groom the horses before we put the tack and saddle on them. We take them out for a ride, but we then have to take the equipment off the horses and bathe them before returning them back to the stable, “Estevez said. During the ride, however, he focuses on the muscle areas he needs to strengthen.
“It is better than going to the gym [and] doing the same routine,” Estevez said.
These programs are available to all soldiers who come through the WTB.
Three years ago, a man with a gunshot wound to the head walked into a hospital in Bagram, Afghanistan, clutching a helmet as if his life depended on it -- because, as it turns out, his life did depend on it.
Army 1st Lieutenant Jeffrey R. Meek and the advanced combat helmet that saved his life were reunited in a presentation at the Mission Command Training Center on Fort Hood, Texas, on November 13.
Meek is the assistant operations officer assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, but three years ago, he was a fire support officer with the division’s 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
The young, fresh-faced lieutenant, the son of an Ordnance Corps soldier from the Vietnam era, Meek was thrilled to be a soldier and excited about everything he got to experience.
“As early as I can remember, I wanted to be a soldier,” said the Wilmette, Illinois, native.
He graduated from St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy, earned a four-year ROTC scholarship to the University of North Dakota and was commissioned in 2011. He reported to his first duty assignment, where he got the news he had seemingly been preparing for his whole life.
“I got to 1-9 Cavalry in July of 2012 and was told to go the central issue facility and draw equipment,” he said. “So I got my equipment, packed my bags and went to [the Joint Readiness Training Center] to train on this security force advise-and-assist team mission.”
Spending a month at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana and hearing of the very real possibility of deployment, Meek said, he remained excited.
“I joined the military knowing that I could deploy and I wanted to deploy,” he said. “I saw that as what the Army does. As an active-duty soldier, the only purpose you have in life is to go far away to another country to fight wars for the defense of this country.”
Upon his arrival in Afghanistan, Meek said, the situation got real fairly quickly. On his 25th birthday, he and his team went on their first mission outside the security perimeter and took incoming indirect fire. He knew quickly that this was going to be an eventful deployment.
Shot in the Head
A few months later, while setting up a blocking position on a bridge in Tagab, his team was caught up in a complex ambush. While lying in the prone with two Taliban military-age males in his sights, Meek said, his head was jolted back as if he had whiplash.
“‘What was that? My head just moved. Did I just get hit?’ was kind of what I was thinking,” he said.
Upon getting his wits about him enough to realize he needed to assess his condition, he said, he pushed back from his position, crawled to the nearby gun truck and began evaluating himself. His commander told him to go get checked out by the doctor, so he moved further to the rear of the formation where the doctor conducted a concussion evaluation.
A 7.62 mm round had entered his helmet, skimmed the inside of the helmet and exited out the back. Meek got shot in the head, but suffered only a superficial hematoma and a concussion, he said.
He said he’ll never forget the look on the medic’s face when the helicopter arrived to evacuate him.
“He was sitting on the other side of the Black Hawk the whole time,” Meek said, “and here I am with this helmet that’s got this bullet wound in the helmet and I’m wearing it. I didn’t have another helmet. He just had this look on his face like, ‘Holy crap.’ I was like, ‘I’m the walking dead here right now.”’
The reaction he elicited during his reception at the hospital at Bagram was not much different.
“I remember going into the hospital,” he said. “The entire staff was waiting at the door as I walked into the door at Bagram, because all they get is, ‘GSW to the head,’ on a little printout, and that’s all they see, so they don’t know whether to expect a guy on a gurney, incapacitated. And here I come walking in, and I’m just clutching onto this helmet, because I wouldn’t be walking around if it weren’t for this helmet. It was just very surreal.”
After a night in the hospital in Bagram, he was transferred to the traumatic brain injury clinic, where he worked to regain all of his cognitive function and return to duty and complete the deployment with his team. He had his helmet in his possession for two or three days after the incident, but then it was taken away.
The personal protective equipment that the Army issues to its soldiers undergoes extensive testing to ensure that America’s warriors are outfitted with the best equipment, said Army Colonel Dean M. Hoffman IV, Program Executive Office Soldier program manager of soldier protection and individual equipment.
“Until I took this job, I had no idea what went in to making this equipment, and it’s been eye-opening,” Hoffman said. “Every helmet is tested probably 67 times. We keep some, and we put them in extreme cold, hot and constantly every year, we’re pulling them off the shelf and retesting them to make sure they’re the best and brightest.”
The engineers, testers and staff at PEO Soldier analyze the equipment that has been engaged in battle to gain knowledge and insight into emerging enemy technologies and vulnerabilities in equipment.
“After detailed analysis, we return it back to the soldier, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” Hoffman said. “It’s an honor. It’s really great that we get to take the equipment and present that back to the soldier.”
Although he was physically able to walk away after getting shot in the head, he was not totally unscathed.
“Nothing was noticeable while I was in Afghanistan,” Meek said. “When I got back, there was a lot noticeable. It was definitely apparent that I left a piece of me on that bridge on that day when I got shot. Entirely psychological as it may be, it still did affect me greatly since then, and still does today to a small degree.”
Meek has spent the past two years since the incident looking forward, so the presentation of the helmet brought the incident back to the forefront of his mind.
“It’s been so long [since I’ve seen it] and this is such a big event, I don’t think it’s fully processed yet,” Meek said. “This will help me bring closure to this incident.”
For Navy veteran Chris Farley, Veterans Day is more than just a day of recognition, it is a part of his daily routine.
Farley, a caretaker at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, makes sure the fallen are remembered and honored. He said he keeps in mind the significance of the responsibility to honor and preserve the memories of those who served before him, and enjoys seeing the response of the families of those they are commemorating.
Farley’s responsibilities at the cemetery include the upkeep of the 112.5 acres of cemetery grounds, supporting burials and disinterment and interment ceremonies. He embodies what the cemetery stands for while interacting with visitors — another part of his job.
He also has a personal connection. Both his mother and father are buried at the cemetery. He visits them almost every day as a way to keep the memories alive.
Learn more about Chris Farley’s dedication to remembering our veterans.
Commanding Officer of Headquarters Squadron, presents the first piece of cake to the wing sergeant. Ceremonies were held in Staff Non-Commissioned Mess of Hedron-1 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Korea, November 10, 1953. Photo courtesy of the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections, the Marion Fischer Collection
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