U.S. Marine Cpl. Garrett Jones was deployed to Afghanistan just a year
after losing his left leg to a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq as
an infantry fighter. In previous wars, Jones would have received a
medical discharge and returned to civilian life. But in the Iraq and
Afghanistan conflicts, the Pentagon has made it possible for some
amputees to return to duty.
CAMP BARBER, AFGHANISTAN — Just over a year ago, Cpl. Garrett Jones
was one of thousands of Marines slogging through a tour of duty in
Iraq. Today, he is deployed with the same unit in Afghanistan, but he
serves now with an unusual distinction.
On July 23, 2007, Jones was on foot patrol near the Iraqi city of
Fallouja when he was injured by a roadside bomb. After the attack, his
left leg was amputated above the knee. He developed infections and
fevers. His weight dropped from 175 pounds to 125. At 21, Jones faced
months of painful rehabilitation and a likely end to his service in the
prosthetic leg. He not only continues to serve on active duty, but he
has worked his way back to a war zone, serving with his Marine battle
buddies in Afghanistan.
In previous wars, Jones would have received a medical discharge
and returned to civilian life. But in the Iraq and Afghanistan
conflicts, the Pentagon has made it possible for some amputees to
return to duty — and for a few to deploy overseas again. Advances in
medical care and high-tech prostheses have enabled amputees to function
Jones said he couldn’t bear the thought of not deploying with
close friends in his unit after he learned last fall that they would be
sent to Afghanistan. He also wanted to pave a path for other amputees
and show them what’s possible, he said.
"I want to be someone an injured Marine can
talk to," Jones said. "And I can tell them: ‘Times will be rough and
not always easy as an amputee, but you can still make great things out
of an unfortunate situation.’ That’s what I want to do."
Sgt. Matthew Leonard, who served with Jones in Iraq and now works
beside him at this desert base in southern Afghanistan, said Jones has
earned a special status among Marines because he demanded to be sent
back to combat.
"He didn’t just choose to come — he fought to come," Leonard
said. "We bled and sweated with this guy in Iraq, and he wants to be
with us more than anything. That’s awesome."
Jones, 22, of Newberg, Ore., is among a small number of Marines
who have lost a limb in Iraq or Afghanistan and returned to duty in a
war zone. (A Marine Corps spokesman said the Corps is unable to provide
Sixty-two soldiers, airmen or sailors have lost limbs in combat
and returned to active duty, according to spokesmen for the Army, Navy
and Air Force.
No information was available for the number of those amputees who have
returned to duty in Iraq or Afghanistan; some estimates put the number
at about a dozen.
Nearly 900 of the 33,000 total U.S. wounded in Iraq and
Afghanistan have lost at least one limb, according to the Pentagon.
Partly because of manpower shortages and partly to retain veterans with
combat experience and other expertise, the military has cleared the way
in recent years for amputees and other injured service members to
remain on active duty.
Unit commanders decide after consulting military doctors what type of
duties to assign amputees, either in the U.S., on an overseas base or
in a war zone, said Lt. Col. George Wright, an Army spokesman.
Jones said he had to pass medical tests and prove in training that
he could walk effectively, get in and out of a Humvee and perform other
physical tasks. Once, while in a simulator that mimics a Humvee rolling
over, his prosthesis popped off, he said. He reattached it and
continued the drill.
Jones didn’t get his first prosthesis until November. By the end of
December, he had learned how to snowboard again, a sport he had enjoyed
for years. He plans to compete in freestyle snowboarding in the 2010
Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada.
"I can do stuff on a snowboard I don’t think any other amputee can
do," he said. He would compete to win, which would create "good
publicity for the Marine Corps," he said.
"He’s amazing — he can do anything," said Cpl. Paul Savage, who works
with Jones here at the headquarters for the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine
Regiment, which is based in Twentynine Palms. "There are no limitations
with this guy."
Jones looks like a lot of other Marine enlisted men on the base —
young, fit, suntanned and energetic. Except for a limp, he blends in
easily. He is engaging and forthright. He discusses his injuries
coolly, without a trace of self-consciousness.
"I roll with the punches," he said. "I’ll always have some pain and discomfort, and I’ve accepted that."
Jones said he was determined to prove that he could perform in a war
zone despite his injuries, which included wounds to his right leg and
partial hearing loss in one ear. He was wounded 23 months after