CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Lance Cpl. Frank Martin had only been in Afghanistan a few days when a 60-pound improvised explosive device detonated while he and his squad were on their first foot patrol in northern Marjah, hurling him into the air.
“It actually picked me up off my feet and I did a one-eighty,” said Martin, infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, attached to the 1st Marine Division. “When I hit the ground the first thing I thought was, ‘oh crap, someone got hit.’
After the dust settled, Martin quickly realized he had been hit – pieces of shrapnel were lodged in his legs, forearm and neck. The two Marines behind him were more badly injured by the blast, and they had to be flown back to the United States for a higher level of medical treatment.
Martin, 24, from Avon Lake, Ohio, considers himself lucky. His shrapnel injuries were far less severe – only flesh wounds – so he was stitched up at the military hospital on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, and sent to the newly-established “Wounded Warrior” facility that aims to help service members with minor war wounds heal and get back to their deployed units.
Injured troops are only allowed to stay at the hospital on Camp Bastion for a few days, due to limited bed space, before they have to be flown elsewhere for long-term care, such as Kandahar, Germany or the United States. But with the new addition of the Wounded Warrior facility they can stay at Leatherneck to receive additional outpatient care.
The Wounded Warrior facility here, which opened in April, is run by corpsmen with 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) whose sole purpose is to monitor the injured service members and ensure they get regular check-ups at the medical clinic right down the road – a short 50-foot walk from their tents. Adjacent to the medical clinic is the Combat Stress Center, should troops need to see a counselor.
The facilities can accommodate up to 54 service members and are made up of several large berthing tents and a lounge area, complete with couches, books, games, snacks and a large TV. The facility is similar to, but not affiliated with, the two Wounded Warrior Battalions located at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., which assist injured Marines and sailors throughout their phases of recovery.
Of the nearly 250 injured service members who have passed through Wounded Warrior, more than 80 percent of them have returned to their units, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class James Jenkins, a corpsman with 1st MLG (FWD) who helps run the Wounded Warrior facility.
“I make sure they’re getting better, getting everything they need, and getting them back to their units so they can do what they do best,” said Jenkins, 28, from Lees Summit, Miss.
Time to heal
At 9 a.m. every morning, the injured Marines make their way from their tents to the lounge where Jenkins does roll call and confirms medical appointments.
“You have your appointment this Thursday, correct, sir?” Jenkins asks a Marine lieutenant whose left foot was grazed by gunfire. Jenkins takes note of his appointment in his log book.
The corpsmen serve as liaisons between the Marines and their care providers, tracking their appointments and treatment progress. The most common injuries they see are concussions from IED blasts and gunshot wounds, but they also house Marines with non-combat related injuries like appendicitis or ankle sprains. If a Marine’s injuries are too severe, however, they are sent to a higher level of care outside of Camp Leatherneck.
After morning roll call, the Marines go about their day, taking it easy, watching TV and attending medical appointments as needed.
Martin makes the short walk from the Wounded Warrior lounge to the Combined Aid Station (CAS) every three days to have his stitches looked at. One by one, he peels away the bandages that cover each of his six stitches; he winces in pain and half-jokingly says, ‘It’s worse pulling off the Band-aids than when I got hit.’
The doc takes a look at his wounds and determines they are healing nicely, but advises him to keep them clean and hands him a pack of fresh bandages meant to last until his next visit. After the 15-minute appointment, Martin makes the short walk back to the Wounded Warrior lounge and plops down on the couch next to the others.
Temporarily removed from their units and the mission, the facility offers the service members a chance to heal in a relaxed setting while being surrounded by other wounded Marines from other forward operating bases in Helmand province.
“At least when you’re over here you still feel like you’re a part of something,” said Martin. “You’re with other guys and you can talk about what happened.”
Martin will be with Wounded Warrior until his stitches are removed and he’s given the green light to return to full duty. He looks forward to getting back out on more patrols with his Marines in 2/6.
“We got out here not too long ago, so I’m excited to get back to them,” he said.
‘Hope they never return’
Depending on the severity of their injuries, service members can stay anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
“My favorite part is getting to know a lot of the guys down here,” said Jenkins. “Spending a lot of time with them every single day, you do make a lot of good friends.”
About two weeks after his arrival, Martin’s stitches were removed and the docs gave him the OK to return to full duty. He packed up his few belongings and returned to 2/6 in Marjah, July 28.
For the corpsmen, watching their new friends leave Wounded Warrior is bittersweet.
“It’s hard to see them go,” said Jenkins, “but it’s actually good because some guys get better treatment, and a lot of guys go back to their unit. But you just hope they never return.”