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Leatherneck Magazine

Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment

Keeping Faith With Wounded, Ill or Injured Marines and Sailors

Volume 98, Issue 4

Author:

CWO-4 Randy Gaddo, USMC (Ret)


 

Genesis of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior RegimentGenesis of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment

Today’s Marine and associated Navy wounded warriors have unprecedented long-term care and support through the Wounded Warrior Regiment (WWR), but there was a time not so long ago when it was just the vision of a small group of Marines.

Until 2007, wounded warrior care was not provided in a unified and standardized way. The concept of a WWR resulted from the increased number of wounded military personnel and the severity of their wounds emerging from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although it took a team to put it all together, the idea emanated from retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Tim Maxwell, who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2004 from a penetrating head wound sustained during his sixth combat tour in Iraq.

He never saw the mortar that hit him. “I woke up next day in the hospital,” he told an NPR interviewer in 2007. He had shrapnel up the left side of his body, with two pieces entering his brain.

“A portion of my brain was dead,” he told the reporter, who asked him what things he had to re-learn. “Everything you did when you got up this morning,” he told her. “I had to learn how to stand, how to walk, how to eat, to brush my teeth, shave, everything.”

As Maxwell began his journey to recovery, he asked the basic question: “We fight as a team, we train as a team, why can’t we recover as a team?” according to Captain Ryan Powell, public affairs officer for WWR.

“Central to his [Maxwell’s] vision was wounded Marines helping each other; an idea that eventually became the WWR,” Powell reiterated.

“It was a simple idea that grew,” Maxwell said during the NPR interview. It started when he began to visit other wounded warriors at the Camp Lejeune, N.C., base hospital. “I talked with the wounded guys and the doctors and nurses and that is how it started.”

After observing that upon release from the hospital, wounded warriors were living alone in separate rooms, he thought, “Golly, we should put these guys together.”

Maxwell, speaking from experience, believed that it was fundamentally important for wounded warriors to be together. “There was a lot of depression and guilt for being injured and their unit was still in combat,” he said. The intended consequence of putting them together was for them to talk with each other in order to share their experiences with others with similar experiences. “They could also get more information about their recovery because they could talk to each other about basic stuff like getting a second opinion,” Maxwell told the reporter.

A wounded warrior is suddenly taken from a unit that has a mission, noted Maxwell. “I would tell them that now they are the unit and their mission is to take care of themselves. Suddenly, you’re in command, you are in charge of yourself, you have to make yourself come up with your mission, what you are going to do with your life.”

Marines are trained to get the job done and not complain about it. “It comes hard for them to ask for help, but I’d tell them you’re not being a sissy … if you ask for help,” Maxwell said.

As Maxwell began to raise the issue, others in the Corps took notice, Capt Powell said. Maxwell got to know two future Commandants who he said were especially helpful: Generals James Conway (CMC, November 2006–October 2010) and James Amos (CMC, October 2010–October 2014). With their support, a barracks was singled out for wounded warriors—it would eventually be named Maxwell Hall.

Maxwell credits Gen Conway with directing that an operational planning team be formed to begin structuring a wounded warrior regiment. The rest is ongoing history. The regiment stood up in 2007 with an east and a west battalion and numerous detachments. A regimental call center was established in 2009, and both battalions now also have call centers.

“I was lucky that General Amos ‘adopted’ me after I was injured and he’d take me along when he went to visit wounded warriors,” said Maxwell from his home today near Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. “He was told by medical people that he shouldn’t do it, that I needed to rest. He said he didn’t think that was right, that I needed a mission. That was true then and it is true today. My whole belief is that wounded warriors need a mission.”

What began as one Marine and his vision now has a staff of more than 500 nationwide and overseas. What began as helping a few wounded warriors in a barracks now reaches out and helps tens of thousands of wounded, ill and injured Marines and sailors.

“I never thought it would ever get this big,” said Maxwell. But as much as has been accomplished, it has only begun to address the problem. For every wounded warrior suffering from TBI or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who finds the support of fellow warriors, there are untold others suffering alone.

“I believe that those Marines or other servicemembers out there alone are suffering worse than those of us who are with other wounded warriors,” Maxwell told the NPR reporter, “but they need to know they are still not alone out there.” Getting help is just a phone call away to one of the regiment’s call centers.

“That’s why I talk to anyone who will listen because I know there’s some kid out there all alone, sitting in an apartment … miserable,” Maxwell said, citing current statistics on veteran suicides, hovering at an alarming rate of about 20 per day.

In fact, the call centers do more than wait for calls to come in. Obtaining contacts from various sources for potential military personnel or their families in need of their assistance, they engage in daily outreach.

“Instead of saying ‘call me if you have a problem,’ we are calling them to just see how they are doing, see if they need us and let them know what we can do for them,” said Maxwell.

-CWO-4 Randy Gaddo, USMC (Ret)

• Regimental Call Center (The Sergeant Merlin German Wounded Warrior Call Center): (877) 487-6299, open 24/7

• Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, Camp Lejeune, N.C., Call Center: (910) 451-1202/2253 or (910) 449-9573; Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Mon.-Fri., East Coast Time)

• Wounded Warrior Battalion-West, Camp Pendleton, Calif., Call Center: (888) 738-7044 or (760) 763-9067/6689/6793; Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.