CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Three Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 5, 1st Marine Logistics Group, whose actions exemplify the caliber of Marines serving within the Corps, have been awarded Purple Hearts after surviving deadly blasts from improvised explosive devices while conducting combat operations in the Al Anbar Province.
Although the Marines had different missions, they suffered similar injuries and proved to have the internal fortitude to take their experiences, learn from them, and apply them to everyday life.
"Everything can change in the blink of an eye," said 24-year-old Cpl. Louis A. Plume, a machine gunner with Security Company, CLB-5, whose vehicle suffered three blasts in the span of 30 minutes while traveling outside Fallujah in July 2006.
"After the first (IED) I checked myself. No bleeding... nothing. Ears hurt, ears ringing... good to go. Let's keep going," he said, describing his reaction to the explosion.
Plume continued to do his job while seeking to positively identify the insurgents responsible for the attack.
The impact of the IED's left him with difficulty hearing and seeing. Since the attack, he has developed migraines, as well as short-term memory loss.
"(The doctors) said if I were to sustain another IED blast, I could end up brain dead," said Plume, who plans on co-owning a tree stump grinding business with his father when his enlistment is complete in January.
Like many other service members, the Rodger City, Mich., native had the opportunity to leave after being injured, but refused. "I'd rather stay here and see the rest of my Marines go home." said Plume, who is scheduled to return with his Camp Pendleton based unit in September, after which he will no longer be considered deployable as a result of his injuries.
With over 2,000 U.S. service members having died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, there is a certain appreciation for life in the mind-set of those who have walked away from IED encounters with minor injuries.
"I definitely know how close I came to dying. I'm still alive to talk about it," said Plume, who paused before quietly adding that there are so many military personnel who didn't get the chance.
When Lance Cpl. Nicolas McDonald, a heavy equipment mechanic with Maintenance Company, CLB-5, experienced an IED blast while traveling through the outskirts of Fallujah, it made him realize life is too valuable to waste.
"This is real, it's not talk, it's not just something you see on TV," he said of the combat operations Marines conduct on a daily basis in the region.
McDonald suffered damage to his ear drum and a minor concussion in March 2006 when an IED detonated close enough to impact his vehicle.
The 20-year-old Yucaipa, Calif., native was scheduled to return to the United States in September, instead he extended his tour to stay in Iraq until next spring.
"Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a vehicle we just fixed leave the wire," explained McDonald, in regards to his mission here.
In May 2006, Cpl. Rowdy Z. Burney was operating a machine gun when his vehicle was struck by an IED. The blast smashed his face into his weapon before ejecting him out of the vehicle and fatally wounding the driver.
"I remember everything, and I'm just grateful to be alive," said Burney, a combat engineer with Charlie Company, CLB-5 and a 21-year-old native of Cullman, Ala.
Having lost his equilibrium due to the force of the blast, his mobility was limited as he attempted to get back to his fellow Marines.
"I couldn't run, so I crawled back (to the vehicle) as fast as I could," he said, as he calmly relived the experience.
Burney received shrapnel in his hands, face and eyes. He has limited mobility of his right thumb, damage to his left ear drum and his vision blurs occasionally.
Burney was unable to go out with his platoon during his month-long recovery and felt useless until he regained his ability to conduct operations again, he said.
"You have to conquer your fear. I still do the same job as I did before, still a gunner, still go out with my platoon every time I can," said Burney.
An untold number of service members, many of whom humbly reject being called heroes, have received awards for their contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For these three, it's a belief in living up to what they feel the Corps expects of its Marines.
"You don't think about the fact that you're going home a Purple Heart recipient. You think, 'that was a close call, I might not be so lucky next time," reasoned Burney.
Plume agreed: "It's part of being a Marine... (it's) second nature to do what (we) have to do."
"(The Corps sends us to do our jobs) and that's what I'm going to do," said Burney. "You're sent out here to do your job, so you do the best that you can every time you're called upon."