Haverford Marine injured in Iraq
Published: Sunday, July 04, 2004
HAVERFORD -- Two days after three members of the Marine Corps Reserve Unit from Folsom died and two others were injured in Iraq, a Marine from Haverford was seriously injured after his vehicle ran over a land mine.
Cpl. Jason Michael Simms, 26, was serving with Delta Company, Third Platoon, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion,stationed outside Fallujah on July 1 when he and three others riding in a light armored vehicle drove over the mine.
One Marine from Tennessee died. One suffered minor injuries, and the other two, including Simms, continue to be treated.
"We don’t know the extent of his injuries," his dad, Jim Simms Jr. said.
Jason Simms’ parents do know their son is stabilized after surgery in Iraq. They said he has shrapnel in the left side of his body and has been quarantined to prevent infection to his burns.
On Thursday, the Simms’ were told Jason would call.
"We still haven’t heard from him," Jim Simms said Saturday. "We should have heard from him by now."
The family waits by the phone.
"It’s like all this going on with the Folsom guys and then this the next day," Simms’ mom, Mary Jean, said from her Grand Avenue home, as two Marine Corps flags flew outside.
The Simms said their son will be moved to Germany once he’s stabilized.
"He could be on his way there now or it could be in 24 hours," Mary Jean said. "We don’t know when. From Germany, he’ll come back to the states."
The 1996 Haverford High School graduate joined the Marines that following January.
"He said he was interested in the challenge," his father said. "He mentioned he wanted to serve the country. And, because ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine.’"
Simms’ parents were surprised, but they supported his decision.
After serving in Hawaii, Jason signed up for another tour last September.
"He missed it," Jim said. "He liked the camaraderie."
In February, Simms went with his unit to Iraq to replace the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, rejecting a Jacksonville, Fla., assignment.
"He had a chance to get out of it," his mother said. "(But) he’d rather stick with his unit."
Before he left, Jason encouraged his parents to get passports so they could go to Germany in case he was injured.
And although he is en route there, his parents have been told to stay in Haverford in anticipation of his homecoming.
His mom remembers learning of his Iraq deployment. "Just like everybody, you think he’ll be fine," she said. "You don’t expect him to get hurt."
His dad said, "It’s where he wanted to be."
In a letter to his sister, Lindsay, Jason wrote, "You don’t know how lucky you are to live in America."
When American troops went door-to-door looking for Saddam
Ascertaining that the baby was in bad shape, Jason gave them whatever food and water he had.Hussein, Jason saw a woman with four children and a baby lying on the floor in a house the size of his Haverford bedroom.
Jason last talked to his parents on Father’s Day, wishing his dad the best and aching to be with his 4-year-old son, Jason Jr.
"Obviously, we are hoping to hear from Jason pretty soon," Jim said. "It’s something you always thought about. It was no consolation for me to hear him say, ‘Don’t worry about me.’ That’s like saying ..‘Don’t snow.’"
If he could see the second of his four children, Simms said, "I wouldn’t say anything." All he would do is embrace his Jason, to envelope him, showing him the love and pride a father has for a son
The Daily GrindThe Daily Grind served as my personal journal during previous military deployments to Iraq. Dormant for some time, I've dusted it off for my latest deployment to Afghanistan. The posts contained herein are solely based on my personal observations and do not represent the official views of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
In August, 2006, I had the honor of spending a week with 40 of our wounded Marines and sailors at the Wounded Warrior Barracks, Camp Lejeune, NC. All returned from Iraq sooner than expected, the result of a well-aimed sniper's bullet or the peppering blast of an IED. Despite their wounds, the Marines continue to march, all of them looking forward to the day they can join their comrades back in their old unit. Some, unfortunately, will never realize that dream, while others will return to duty for yet another tour in Iraq.
The photo shows Lieutenant General Amos (right), former Commanding General, II MEF, at the ribbon cutting ceremony of Maxwell Hall, the official designation for the wounded warrior barracks. LtCol Tim Maxwell, himself recovering from wounds in Iraq, stands atop the stairs with his wife and child. Tim is the mastermind behind the barracks concept and is owed credit for giving our wounded Marines a place they can call home during their recovery process. Here is my version of this success story:
“My hands were in flames, and my whole face was in flames”, said Sgt. Jason Simms, recalling the fateful day in July, 2004 when his light armored vehicle was struck by the blast of an IED, or improvised explosive device. He was nearing the end of an 8 hour patrol with Delta Company, 2nd LAR Battalion, when his life changed forever.
“My hands suffered third degree burns…and my face took second degree burns. I took three bullets in the right leg, with shrapnel through my tendons and arteries” says Simms, sitting comfortably inside the II MEF wounded warrior barracks at Camp Lejeune, NC. Still recovering from his wounds, the Sergeant motions toward the passageway where Marines begin to congregate prior to their afternoon formation. “Everyone here has been wounded. I think the most important thing here is we were all wounded and we can all understand each other.”
The wounded warrior barracks is home to over 40 Marines and sailors of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, or II MEF. Located at Hospital Point aboard Camp Lejeune, the barracks formerly served as a bachelor officers quarters. In September, 2005, however, the BOQ was transformed into a home away from home for Marines and FMF corpsmen returning early from Iraq, their trip the courtesy of an Iraqi sniper or the blast of an IED. The newly renovated barracks provides the sailors and Marines a place to rehabilitate, allowing them to and focus on their medical needs rather than their next field evolution or unit training class.
The injured Marines and sailors are officially assigned to the Wounded Warrior Support Section, one of two sections comprised within the II MEF Injured Support Unit, or ISU. Established with the goal of tracking all injured II MEF service members and providing support to them and their immediate families, the ISU was developed in 2005, subsequent to a realization that some injured Marines and sailors were convalescing at home or within a variety of military and civilian medical centers, effectively cutting them off from their Marine Corps family.
Lieutenant General James F. Amos, former Commanding General of II MEF, recognized the need for a program that would track each and every wounded Marine and sailor coming home from the Middle East. Scribbling notes on personalized stationary, MajGen. Amos penned the following end state: "We will stay plugged in to every single wounded Marine who has been evacuated to CONUS for rehabilitation...until such time (sic) he no longer needs our assistance." According to the General's hand written memorandum, tracking and communication were the key elements that would lead to the successful formulation of the ISU. Later refining his end state by issuing a formal CG's intent, he wrote "I intend to develop an all encompassing program that provides continual support to all injured II MEF service members until such time as the service member no longer desires the support. This continual support will also extend to his or her immediate family. The program is directed to be a "one stop" shop for all injured II MEF service members, staffed with resident experts capable of finding solutions to all inquiries. It will provide continual command care and concern to the injured service member and their families throughout their transition to either continued military service or to the civilian community."
And so began the Injured Support Unit. Initially staffed with both recalled reservists and active duty personnel, its dedicated members made numerous liaison visits to wounded Marines in Military hospitals and VA centers across the country. Whether tracking the flight status of an injured service member from the time of injury until his return to CONUS, or assisting him in separating from active service, the ISU involves themselves in every facet of the Marines rehabilitative process to include the complicated logistics of family travel, convalescent leave, and follow-on medical treatment and rehabilitation, as well as VA transition and the medical evaluation process.
Since its inception, the ISU has tracked and assisted more than 2,000 wounded Marines and sailors. Unfortunately, not all of the injured Marines or sailors return to Camp Lejeune to rehabilitate among their fellow Marines and sailors. Many remain bed-ridden or continue to receive therapy at other locations, such as the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland or the military burn center at the Trauma Institute of San Antonio, Texas. Regardless of their location, the men and women of the ISU spend countless hours making telephone calls and personal visits to each and every Marine, ensuring no one falls through the cracks.
According to Major Daniel Hooker, Assistant OIC of the ISU, the unit quickly established a routine and developed primary points of contact at every hospital and trauma center known to treat wounded sailors and Marines. Referring to the ISU as the II MEF Chief of Staff's "hip pocket artillery" when it comes to injured support issues, Major Hooker emphasizes his primary goal: "Whenever we thought about the Commanders intent, it was simply, do we have an accurate list of the present physical location and contact information of all our wounded and are we actively helping them?"
"We have two main sections of the ISU" says Hooker. "The Injured Support Section...they handle the separate subsets of our wounded, which includes the medically discharged; the very seriously injured; the seriously injured; and the not seriously injured. The other main section is the wounded warrior barracks, also called the Wounded Warrior Support Section. In the barracks side, everyone has been wounded except the Lieutenant, while on the (ISS) side, no one has. Part of that was by design, in terms of the staff of the barracks. There could be very effective leadership and mentorship of wounded (Marines and sailors) by Officers and SNCO's that had also been wounded, in that they could serve as role models and could provide living proof that you can overcome your challenges, even severe wounds such as those LtCol. Maxwell sustained. He has served as an inspiration to the men, who in most cases, and as far as the residents of the barracks go, were less severely wounded than he was."
Majjor Hooker was referring to LtCol. Tim Maxwell, the Officer in Charge of the Wounded Warrior Support Section. As the chief advocate for the development of a medical rehabilitation platoon, a place where Marines and sailors could live in an environment shaped by their experiences in battle and their struggle to recuperate, LtCol. Maxwell was himself seriously wounded by an IED while serving as the Operations Officer for the 24th MEU. Shrapnel from the blast tore into his skull, leaving him with traumatic head and brain injuries. Unwilling to give up his struggle to stay Marine, he learned to walk, then talk, besieged by therapy and rehabilitation. Despite permanent damage he suffered, his injuries are relatively unnoticeable to the average person. He has since regained his speech and his health continues to improve with each passing day.
It was LtCol. Maxwell who first suggested the central billeting concept, a place of cohabitation for injured service members. In addition to enhancing the II MEF tracking capability, the central billeting concept would reduce the Marine's feeling of isolation and provide an environment for shared experiences, as well as creating an opportunity for smoother transition back to their unit or when separating from the Corps. Most importantly, the barracks would provide a consolidated location where specialized services, medical oversight, and morale enhancements could be offered under one roof for the collective benefit of all wounded service members. Maxwell summarized his idea - "The concept was simple...let's just keep the guys together, so they don't have to spend time alone."
LtCol. Maxwell's cadre wear many hats while working in the barracks. They serve as ad hoc parents, mentors and role models, all but one having been wounded in the war on terrorism. "The units are not set up to help some of these Marines who need long term care, but (who) are not going to stay in a hospital...it's a full time job doing that," mentions Gunnery Sgt. Barnes, Staff NCOIC of the Wounded Warrior Support Section. Pondering the benefits of the wounded warrior barracks, Gunnery Sgt. Barnes finds merit in the collective healing concept. "It's something I know because of all the doctors appointments (I required) and the amount of drugs I took for awhile," Barnes explains. "It's not a unit's lack of compassion or understanding, it's a lack of time to focus on those issues. Units don't have anything dedicated or set up to take the young Marines to their hospital appointments. Their hearts are in the right place...they want to be able to do that, but they have one focus when they get back, and it's not to heal...it's to rebuild and to get the unit ready to fight again."
Gunnery Sgt. Barnes stresses the wounded Marines aren't babied at the barracks. "I only give them compassion when they need compassion. I don't feel sorry for them because they got hurt...I got hurt. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me, either. If you need help getting your pant leg on, well...that's not something you need to feel sorry for anybody for. It's just something you need help with...it shouldn't be embarrassing. You're still going to have to look good in your Alphas. They are required to be at work. We have a ton of jobs we get them involved in. The sergeants I've got here are squad leaders; they work around their doctors appointments. It shows them they can still do it."
Resembling little like the billeting at their parent unit, the wounded warrior barracks provides its inhabitants with private rooms, complete with individual bathrooms and separate living space. The barracks itself is modified with handicapped ramps and wheelchair accessible entry points. The barracks personnel were recently provided a beautiful stainless steel propane grill from the 2nd Marine Division Association, now permanently installed outside the barracks entrance. More important than its physical features, however, the barracks offers the wounded a place to share their experiences with others who’ve endured the same hardships and who share the same need for additional surgery and treatment.
"It's almost like being in Iraq" says LCpl. Brandon Love, a GAW gunner for 2nd BN, 2nd Marine Regiment who suffered severe shrapnel wounds in Al Karma, Iraq in September, 2005. "You find out about these guys...everybody has seen combat. Most everybody has seen their buddies get injured if not killed, and everybody here was injured. Those three things make us more alike than most people realize, regardless of where we are from, what our MOS is...the brotherhood and the camaraderie is the most beneficial thing." LCpl. Love's comments were quickly echoed by LCpl. Bruce Schweitzer, injured in March, 2006 while serving with 3/8 in Ramadi, Iraq, "They focus completely on your injury. It's all about your injury. They want to get you healed up and get you back with your unit."
General Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, had this to say to the staff of MARINES, the Corps Official Magazine in September, 2005. "Our Marines are just that; Marines to the core. Some have lost limbs or sustained other types of serious injuries, but amazingly they're trying to recover as quickly as possible so they can get back to their units. They don't slow down when thrown a curve ball and their resiliency and determination are breathtaking. When I talk to one of these Marines and they explain how they want to continue with their service, I want to make sure the Marine Corps takes the right steps to make that happen." Apparently, II MEF has taken the first steps and is continuing to march.
Posted by VMICraig at 10/10/2006 10:55:00 AM
Marine’s parents can only wait
Published: Monday, July 05, 2004
HAVERFORD -- In the absence of a call from their injured son, James and Mary Jean Simms have been hoping to hear some good news about his condition and prospects for recovery.
Instead, the updates from the Marine Corps about Cpl. Jason Michael Simms have only brought more pain.
"They tell us as much as they know but they don’t have all the information," Mary Jean said. "It is really hard to wait so long to find out his actual condition."
A member of Delta Company, Third Platoon, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Jason Simms was wounded July 1 in Iraq when a landmine exploded beneath the vehicle he and three other Marines were traveling in.
One Marine from Tennessee was killed in the incident and three others, including Simms, were injured. A 1996 graduate of Haverford High School, Simms was transported to a hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. It is the same base that another Delco Marine, Matthew Crawford of Upper Darby, was sent after being injured by a roadside bomb last Tuesday.
Three Marines from Crawford’s unit, based in Folsom, Ridley Township, were killed in that incident.
"We’ve been told he’ll be transported to a burn center in Houston in the next 48 hours," Jim Simms said. "We keep hearing he’s stable."
The Simms’ first heard their son had been hit by shrapnel in both legs and on the left side of his body. They later learned Jason had suffered burns on his face and hands.
"Today we found out he had a broken leg and 2nd and 3rd-degree burns on his face and mouth area," Mary Jean said. "He’s also on a ventilator."
The Simms are planning to fly to Houston as soon as their son returns to the U.S. "We have been waiting by the phone all day," Jim said. "You always want to know more but this is just how communication is during war time. It’s nobody’s fault."
"It’s flat-out terrible that he’s hurt but it’s really hard to find out what happened in bits and pieces," Mary Jean said.The father of a 4-year-old son, Jason rejected the
opportunity to serve stateside in Jacksonville, Fla. when his unit was sent to Iraq in February.
Tuesday's World Briefs
Posted on March 13, 2007
(by Jamie Dean, WorldMag.com) CAMP LEJENUE, N.C.–On a crisp morning on the North Carolina coast, traffic bustles through the main gate of Camp Lejeune, the largest U.S. Marine Corps base east of the Mississippi. The 156,000-acre site includes 11 miles of beach for amphibious operations training, 98 maneuver areas, and more than 40,000 Marines.
Clad in sweatshirts and gym shorts, pairs of bulky Marines jog briskly down winding sidewalks along neatly manicured roads. Others set up tall, green tents inside a circle of barbed wire for training exercises. Some prepare for target practice on one of 78 live-fire ranges.
Nearby in a brick, two-story barracks, Sgt. Jason Simms maneuvers a long hallway armed with a thin, black cane. The 28-year-old Marine, seriously wounded in Iraq in 2004, is on a mission of his own: recovering from his 18th surgery in less than three years.
Simms is one of 80 Marines at Camp Lejeune’s Wounded Warrior barracks, a renovated barracks for Marines injured in combat. The barracks opened in late 2005 to give wounded Marines much-needed help in two critical areas: navigating the complicated world of outpatient care, and recovering with others who have been through similar ordeals.
Simms is one of the nearly 24,000 military personnel wounded in action since the United States invaded Iraq four years ago this month. More than half of those returned to duty within three days. But for many of the 10,000 who didn’t return quickly, medical care is a dominating concern.
The issue of medical care for troops has dominated military news since revelations of gross mismanagement at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., surfaced in late February. The Washington Post reported that troops in Walter Reed’s outpatient center languished in squalid living conditions while wading through miles of red tape to receive proper care.
The scandal led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to dismiss the facility’s commander, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman. One day later, Gates announced the resignation of Army Secretary Francis Harvey in connection with the scandal. He ordered an investigation of the military and veterans health-care systems nationwide, noting that the substandard conditions at Walter Reed might exist elsewhere, especially in outpatient care.
The Wounded Warrior barracks at Camp Lejeune doesn’t provide medical treatment or outpatient care, but it does help Marines manage the logistical details of both: Barracks staff provide transportation to medical appointments, assist Marines with paperwork, and help family members with lodging and car rentals when they visit. The barracks has wheelchair ramps, updated bathrooms, and lowered doorknobs on bedroom doors.
The two Marine officers who conceived the idea for the barracks know the importance of such services firsthand, since both were injured in Iraq. When the officers returned home from the field, they encountered the need for a support system for wounded troops. They proposed the idea for the barracks in mid-2005 and started housing six men in six rooms later that year.
Today, Gunnery Sgt. Bill Rosborough runs daily operations for the 80 barracks residents. He summarized the core idea of the project while sitting in an oversized recliner in the barracks lounge: “The people best prepared to take care of Marines are Marines.” Rosborough said the range of injuries has run from “amputees to shrapnel in the buttocks”: Some Marines have stayed only three days, but others have been here since it opened.
Vans leave the barracks daily, taking Marines to medical appointments on and off the base. Some pursue treatment in one of several military hospitals on the East Coast, including the Naval hospital on the base. Others get care from private hospitals with surgical and rehabilitative specialties well-suited for specific injuries.
But the barracks’ most important function, according to Rosborough, is allowing wounded Marines to heal together: “It’s much easier to talk to another guy who’s been through what you’ve been through than to talk to someone who hasn’t.”
That’s something Rosborough knows firsthand: The gunnery sergeant was seriously wounded in an IED explosion in Iraq six months after he arrived on the field. He doesn’t talk much about his injuries, except to say that he’s “had a lot of work done,” including several plastic surgeries. He still travels to nearby Wilmington for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
When Rosborough, 27, first returned from Iraq, the Wounded Warrior barracks didn’t exist, so he lived with his mother for three months. He felt isolated and quickly grew depressed: “I didn’t want to talk to anybody, and I didn’t want to see anybody. I just wanted to be alone, and that’s horrible for you.”
Rosborough turned in on himself and tried to move back into his own home, but he found he couldn’t cope with being alone for more than a few hours: “You want to be alone, but you can’t be alone.”
Months later, Rosborough returned to active duty. His injuries prevented him from returning to Iraq, so he came to work at the newly opened barracks. He wants to spare other Marines from the isolation he experienced, and he says when wounded Marines see others heal and recover, it gives them hope that they can get better too.
Sgt. Simms, the Marine who recently underwent his 18th surgery, agrees. Simms sits perched on the edge of a chair with both feet flat on the ground. That’s something he hasn’t been able to do in nearly three years. When an IED struck his armored vehicle in Fallujah in July 2004, shrapnel ripped through his right leg, severely damaging the tendons and muscles. As he moved away from the truck, a nearby enemy gunman shot him three times in the same leg.
Simms’ most recent surgery extended his Achilles tendon, which had been damaged so severely it prevented him from resting his right foot flat on the ground. He’s also undergone extensive plastic surgery for severe burns on his face and hands. A dark pink line across his jawbone is the only sign of the burns on his face, but Simms’ hands remain scarred, and the pinkie finger on his right hand is gone.
Just above his scarred right hand, Simms wears a black bracelet on his wrist bearing the name of Lance Cpl. Tim Creager, who was killed in the explosion. Along with the date and location of the bombing, the bracelet reads: “We will not forget.”
When Simms returned from Iraq, he spent two-and-a-half months in a burn center. Not wanting to leave the Marines, he eventually returned to the regular barracks with his unit at Camp Lejeune. But unable to perform the same duties as the rest of his unit, and still reeling from the trauma of the explosion, Simms languished: “I just kind of sat there and nobody knew what to say to me.” When nightmares of the bombing jarred him awake at night, Simms had no one to share the burden
When the Wounded Warrior barracks opened several months later, Simms signed up. “There’s always somebody to talk to who’s been through what you’ve been through,” he says. “They just understand.”
Now Simms assists with operations at the barracks and helps wounded Marines adjust to their new lives. When they first arrive, they’re often withdrawn and quiet, he says, but they “warm up real quickly” when they realize “everyone is here to help and they don’t have to be embarrassed.”
On the main hallway of the first floor, Marines wearing camouflage uniforms gather in small groups, leaning on crutches and canes. Some wear eye patches, others wear braces on their arms and legs. At the end of the hallway, a bulletin board displays nearly two dozen Polaroid pictures of Marines from the barracks who have returned to active duty. A handful of those have returned to Iraq.
While many in the Wounded Warrior barracks won’t return to Iraq, Rosborough says barracks life is designed to keep them productive Marines. Those who are able rise at 5:30 a.m. and attend morning formation. Each Marine has duties commensurate with his physical ability. Some man the gym on the first floor, perform maintenance duties, or tackle administrative tasks. Some go across the base to the school for military kids, tutoring them and reading to them. Others perform safety briefings for other Marines around the base.
Lt. Col. Tom Siebenthal says keeping wounded Marines as active and productive as possible is key to their recovery. Siebenthal, in charge of the Injured Support Unit for the II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) at Camp Lejeune, works in a small office on the barracks’ first floor.
Siebenthal oversees a database of about 300 wounded Marines that allows the unit to track Marines from the point of injury on the field. Staff and wounded Marines in the barracks regularly contact each Marine to find out if he is receiving proper care and has specific needs. If a Marine medically retires, the unit still follows up with him once a month. Military hospitals have protocol for tracking the wounded, says Siebenthal, “but we’re like the big father figure making sure it all happens.”
The unit also connects wounded Marines and family members with nonprofit organizations that provide additional assistance with needs like travel expenses. Siebenthal says community support has been overwhelming, from large donations by the New York City Fire Department to homemade lasagna baked by ladies from local churches.
Camp Pendleton, a large Marine Corps base on the West Coast, has followed Camp Lejuene’s lead and now has its own version of the Wounded Warrior barracks. Next month the units are set to become the two battalions of the new Wounded Warrior Regiment, which will be based at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. Some 54 staff members will help oversee the barracks on both coasts, tracking wounded Marines and connecting them with resources across the country.
Siebenthal says he’s pleased with Quantico’s eagerness to take on the project. The staff will re-evaluate the system in six months and make necessary adjustments. “That’s not usually the Marine Corps way,” says Siebenthal, noting that the Corps typically sticks rigidly to set structure. “But they’re recognizing the need for flexibility in these situations.”
Rosborough says the barracks at Camp Lejeune already needs something else: more room. The unit is making plans for a new 200-bed barracks, but will make do with available space until then. As President Bush’s troop surge sends more Marines to Iraq, Rosborough says the barracks is preparing for more wounded: “We’re going to get a lot busier.”
Copyright ©2007 WORLD Magazine, March 17, 2007 issue. Reprinted here March 13th with permission from World Magazine. Visit the website at www.WorldMag.com.
|Returning war hero gets hearty welcome|
Published: Friday, July 30, 2004
HAVERFORD -- Around 7:20 p.m. Thursday, people lined the 500 block of Grand Avenue, anxious to see Marine Cpl. Jason Michael Simms return home after being injured in Iraq 29 days ago.
The telephone poles were decorated in red, white and blue streamers and American flags were ubiquitous.
"Is it him? Is it him?" they asked each other.
Then, the maroon Jeep truck slowly drove up the street to a flurry of shouts and applause.
As Simms emerged from the truck wearing a gray Marines T-shirt and a red Marines cap, his grandmother Agnes Simms leaned on her cane and exclaimed, "Oh my God. Look! He’s walking! And he looks good!"
Simms was stationed outside Fallujah, serving with Delta Company, Third Platoon, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion on July 1 when a vehicle in which he was riding drove over a land mine.
One of his legs was broken, both were hit by shrapnel and he suffered second- and third-degree burns on his face, mouth and hands.
Two others riding with him were also injured, and a Marine from Tennessee died.
On July 6, Simms arrived at the Brooke Army Center Division of the Sam Houston Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where he’ll return Aug. 30 for a re-evaluation before being sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
In the meantime, his family is celebrating.
"I just feel like I’m on top of the world," Simms’ mother, Mary Jean, said. "Now we just have to worry about everyone else."
In between familial hugs, she conceded she had work to do. "We need to fatten him up a little," she smiled, adding that he’d delight in mashed potatoes "morning, noon and night."
What was planned to be an intimate gathering turned into a show of more than three-dozen relatives and friends, all hoping to show their love for him.
"God answered our prayers," Simms’ grandfather, Pete Ross, said, recalling fondly the days he changed Jason’s diapers.
Ross and his granddaughter, Jessica McIlhenney, spent the day making a "Get Well Soon" sign to show support from their Norwood home.
Marie Murray of Broomall and her daughter, Regina Nau, made 40 pins honoring the 1996 Haverford High graduate.
"I made them for everybody," she said, picking some from a white plastic bag and handing them out. "This is a great time. We’re just happy he’s here. I just hope he gets alright."
Simms’ cousin Paige Drucker of Aston said, "He’s probably one of the bravest people we’ll ever know."
For his parents, relief came with the sight of Simms limping through a crowded airport at 6:20 p.m.
"I’m just glad he’s out of there," his father, Jim Simms Jr., said. "I’m glad he’s home. You wake up thinking about it and ..it’s a constant worry."
Now, the younger Simms will relax, spend time with family, including a visit to Citizens Bank Park with his 4-year-old son Jason, and munch on some Wawa hoagies.
Simms himself hopes the next 30 days bring a lot of rest, as his recovery has not been easy.
"It’s been very frustrating," he said. "Right after the incident, I couldn’t walk. I’m 26 and I had to learn to walk all over again."
It took him almost a month to learn to make a fist.
On Thursday, his friends and family were happy to have him right where he was. As a bottle of champagne was popped, his mother cheered, "Welcome home, Jason, safe and sound. We love you."
The group responded with, "Semper Fi!"
Simms himself felt a little awkward, as his heart was with his 140 comrades left behind.
"It’s kind of weird being here sipping champagne and them still over there," he said. "If it was up to me, I would (return to Iraq) because the rest of my unit is still there."
In the meantime, his wish was for them to join his current fate. "I just hope that the rest of my unit comes back soon," he said.
Sergeant helps wounded warriors mend
May 7, 2007 - 12:00AM
DAILY NEWS STAFF
At 28 years old, Sgt. Jason Simms has been through a lot more than most people his age.
Since July 2004, his life has been turned upside down. That's when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Propane in the bomb set his hands and face on fire. It also lodged shrapnel and bullets in his legs. He woke up two weeks later at Brooke Army Medical Center with third-degree burns on his hands and second-degree burns on his face.
"When I woke up I was confused," he said. "I was under so much medication I would hallucinate and think things were happening that weren't."
Simms would wake up to terrifying images that Iraqis were trying to kill him, his son hated him and one of the Marines in the vehicle who was killed was lying in bed with him.
"It was hard to differentiate what was real and what wasn't," he said. "Obviously the burns hurt a lot, but that was the worst thing."
One finger was lost and arteries and tendons in his hands were shredded. Nineteen surgeries later, he is now able to use his hands, but still has pain.
He still walks with a cane. But he's come a long way.
"I still have pain," he said. "I can feel the metal in the bottom of my feet if I've been on them all day. My hands hurt if I'm gripping things."
And just when Simms began settling into an apartment in Jacksonville, it caught fire and was destroyed in February. He lost everything.
"My family was coming to see me that day because my little brother was going to Iraq," Simms said. "It was very overwhelming."
But the community pulled together through Hope for the Warriors, a non-profit organization that refurnished his entire apartment. His brother, 20-year-old Nathan Simms, has been in Iraq for 10 months.
"I understand how my parents felt now - worrying constantly," he said. "But I did encourage him to join."
Simms is happy to be back among Marines.
"I love being a Marine and when I was at home there weren't any," he said. "I missed the haircut, the uniform, everything. I missed being a part of something."
It's the bond between Marines that makes them want to go back - to fight for one another, he said. He shares that bond with best friend Jeremy, who saved his life by pulling him out of the vehicle after it was hit and putting out the fire that engulfed him.
Although the past two years haven't been easy for Simms physically, perhaps the hardest thing of all was losing one of his friends - the driver of the vehicle when it was hit.
When Simms returned home to Philadelphia after two months in the hospital, he found himself on the verge of depression.
"I spent 75 percent of my time by myself," he said. "It was hard because I just wanted to be with my Marines in Iraq. It was hard that I was sitting there safe and they were over there. I felt guilty for living. I felt guilty for my friend's death. I felt like there was something I could have done even though he was killed instantly."
Simms struggled with thoughts that no one understood his pain. But when his unit, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, returned from war, it helped.
"My best friend didn't know where I was or how I was doing," he said. "I tapped him on the shoulder when he got back. He cried. We hugged. It was great to see everybody. It was kind of like an ease swept over me."
The Wounded Warrior Barracks was not yet created when Simms was hurt, but he now serves there. And he does more than just caring for the warriors.
He shares their pain.
"They can talk to me because I know what they've been through," Simms said. "It's a great feeling, knowing that everybody in this building understands. At home, I didn't talk to anyone. I did here. It helped a lot mentally."
When new wounded warriors arrive, they are quiet like Simms used to be. But within a week, he coaxes them to open up and begin the healing process. His healing began with his 7-year-old son, Jason Jr.
He fought to get better for him, as it was hard realizing that he couldn't chase his son, play sports with him and ride bikes with him.
"I can do those things now," he said. "But he can still run faster than me."
Simms has one other goal in his recovery - to walk without his cane again. And to get past the nightmares.
"I still have flashbacks and nightmares, but I know they'll slow down," he said. "Everybody is different."
Simms just has to keep pressing on. And that is something he said he plans to do.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
Wounded Warrior Working with Fellow Warfighters in Civilian Service
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charley G. Abrams, Naval Support Activity Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA. Pa. (NNS) -- Retired Marine Sgt. Jason M. Simms received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal during a ceremony held Oct. 21 at the historic Bourse Building, Center City Philadelphia for his "superior performance" in helping fellow Marines at Wounded Warriors Battalion East
Wounded Warriors Battalion East, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., houses Marines injured in Afghanistan and Iraq, and provides both support and assistance to them and their families until they return to duty or are medically discharged and successfully reintegrated into civilian life.
Jason M. Simms, a former sergeant and Swarthmore, Pa., resident, was injured July 2004 when his light armored vehicle hit an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. After his recovery, he was hired in May 2008 as part of an initiative spearheaded by two Navy Human Resources Service Center Northeast (HRSC-NE) employees who sought and found a way to assist Marine veterans recovering from severe injuries. They aimed to provide the support and resources wounded warriors need to build federal careers while also positively impacting an agency's ability to meet its equal employment opportunity (EEO) and diversity goals.
Lt.Col. Steven Kelly, Navy Inventory Control Point Director, Energy & Product Support, presented the award to Simms and explained that for two and a half years, Simms counseled more than 100 Marines at the Wounded Warriors Battalion. Simms helped them with "their medical issues, their benefits and helped them deal with the [Veterans Administration] on a daily basis. He was 'human resources,' and that's the award we are giving him today," Kelly explained.
Patricia D'Amico, director, Human Resources Service Center - Northeast (HRSC-NE) explained in her opening remarks that Simms has already demonstrated the commitment and responsibility needed in the civilian HR community and that his "'can do', responsive attitude, commitment to getting a task done, and his professional demeanor are exactly the qualities we seek in our HR assistants and specialists."
"We are delighted that he chose to join the civilian HR community," she added.
Joseph Cavicchio and Kathleen M. York who have extensive human resources experience devised and implemented a plan to assist Marines in creating effective resumes, helped guide them through the federal job application process, and contacted managers from various Department of the Navy commands and activities to market the wounded Marine's qualifications and solicit hiring consideration.
Cavicchio, himself a Marine veteran, found a means to this goal by finding and working with the Wounded Warriors Battalion East program. He envisioned a "win-win" opportunity for both the wounded Marines and HRSC-NE-serviced commands and activities and soon recruited York, who helped bring his ideas to life.
He said he is quick to point out to hiring officials that this initiative is not just a "feel good" program. Cavicchio said that hiring Marines is a "good business practice, since Marines are well trained by the armed services with valuable skills and abilities, vastly experienced, self-disciplined and adaptable to changing work environments, tested leaders that are accountable for their actions and loyal employees who understand the significance of 'placing nation above self.'"
For more news from the fleet, visit www.navy.mil.