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American Service Dogs magazine

MAY 20, 2017

AMERICAN GRIT: LTCOL TIMOTHY MAXWELL, SEMPERMAX

By Delia Engstrom

Semper Fidelis- two words heard so often within the Marine Corps. It’s a motto Marines live by and one that most civilians are even familiar with- “Always Faithful” -and it might as well be the first and last name of LtCol Tim Maxwell, retired Marine. Through twenty-one years of service to his country, including numerous deployments, and a combat-related injury received in Iraq in 2004, he’s maintained a Semper Fi spirit that has never quit, even into retirement.

In 2004 Maxwell was taking a well-deserved minute of respite while deployed to Iraq with the 24th MEU. Working long hours at the command center near Iskandiriya as the Operations Officer was typical, but downtime, although not commonplace, was still a necessity for even the toughest of warriors. On October 7th, Maxwell switched up his normal routine, leaving the center- hoping to indulge in a few minutes of battlefield relaxation alone in a nearby tent. It was during that brief moment of quiet where he had removed his helmet and lain down, that an enemy mortar round exploded, causing massive shrapnel injuries to his head, face, and arms. The rest is an understandable blur with him quoted shortly thereafter as saying “I knew something happened, I just didn’t know what it was. ”

LtCol Maxwell’s journey to rehabilitation and recovery began with a Medivac flight to Germany, where his wife Shannon had traveled to be by his side. Soon afterward he was transferred to Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. One of the highest-ranking marines to be seriously wounded in Iraq, with extensive brain and bodily injuries, Maxwell wasted no time in sharing his Semper Fi spirit with other hospitalized marines who had also been injured during conflicts in Iraq, often lending an ear and advice when needed. When certain aspects of his injuries required specialized care, Maxwell continued on the path to bodily healing at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Richmond, but deeply felt the emotional wounds of not convalescing with his fellow marines.

Arriving the following year at Camp Lejeune, Maxwell took note of the lack of support for other Marines that had also been discharged from hospitals but were still recovering from battle wounds, both mental and physical, just like him. They were all living separately, missing that important interaction with those who understood their struggles best. Somehow or another Semper Fidelis had become lost in translation when it came to the Marines that needed it most.  This just didn’t sit well with this career Marine and Maxwell soon began advocating for central billeting. With the help of General Amos and others, he soon saw the formation of a living space for wounded warriors that became aptly named “Maxwell Hall.” By 2007 an entire Wounded Warrior Battalion had formed aboard Camp Lejeune due in part to the faithful ways of LtCol Maxwell.

In 2009 when nagging health problems from the injuries he sustained in Iraq led him to retirement, Maxwell needed a new mission.  Together Tim and Shannon founded Semper Max Support Fund, a foundation that serves as the legacy of the work Tim began in 2005. Offering morale and welfare aid to all wounded veterans and families, their motto is “Always do your best.” Maxwell understands that not all veterans will have the same capabilities they did prior to their injuries, and not every combat wounded vet heals the same. Craig Stephens, the Command Advisor at Camp Lejeune’s Wounded Warrior Battalion states “We may have 200 marines here, but they are each going 200 different directions.” Tim Maxwell’s first-hand experience drives the faith he has in each one of their abilities, whether attached to the Wounded Warrior Battalion or transitioned out of the Marine Corps and using services like Semper Max. He states, “They have a concept that they can’t do “it”. But, no matter your handicap, whether mental or physical, there is no ‘should’ve’.” He stops and then says with conviction “They just have to do it.”

Today the Marine Corps continues to be faithful to their wounded veterans via the direction of the Wounded Warrior Regiment located in Quantico, VA. Overseeing two battalions, one at Lejeune and another on the west coast at Camp Pendleton, they also serve veterans at detachments throughout the United States and around the globe. The scope of what the Wounded Warrior Regiment provides to Marines and their families as they recuperate and regroup is staggering, but not surprising given the ethos that drives it.   “Semper Fidelis is more than just the official motto of the U.S. Marine Corps, it is a way of life,” comments Craig Stephens, ” ‘Always’ means always and that’s all that always means. ”

As the Semper Max Support Fund continues to do amazing work assisting wounded service members and their families, the Maxwells still have more to offer the military community.  Residing on a 73-acre farm in southwestern Virginia, they had a vision of a gathering place for the military community to continue to bond, both over work and relaxation. Their Semper Fi Farms, begun in 2016, shares their faithful nature with veteran visitors who often lend a hand on projects around the farm. With the staggering rate of suicide among veterans who battle demons alone and often feel lost after their service ends, Maxwell is encouraged by their visits, knowing that many aches for a sense of belonging and having a mission. “Being on a team is so addictive. Without it, there’s a feeling of having no purpose. But with two people instead of one, we get ten times the work done!”  Tangible evidence of teamwork is apparent at Semper Fi Farms in the bridges and fences on the property.  Events like their annual Flag Day celebration in June offer families a chance to make memories together while enjoying activities, entertainment and food arranged by Shannon and Tim. Some visitors may camp for a weekend; others may stop by for just a day, but the Maxwells welcome everyone.

Whether deployed to the desert sands; navigating military hospital hallways; or working the fertile farmlands Maxwell’s Semper Fi spirit is with him, ready to share. “I hope more people continue to come by here,” he remarks at the end of an active day at Semper Fi Farms. “It’s good for them,” he pauses and then says “And it’s good for me.” 

For more information and veteran resources please visit Semper Max Support Fund at sempermax.com. Find out more about their annual Veteran’s Flag Day event in our events calendar.