CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (WNCT) - A special battalion aboard Camp Lejeune is giving new hope to Marines left injured and disabled while fighting for our freedom. It’s one of only two battalions in the nation to do so.
WNCT’s Elizabeth Tew has a special report form inside Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, where each Marine there is still in the fight.
Inside WWBn-E you’ll find Marines going through some of the toughest times of their lives. But how they go in, is not how they come out.
Gunnery Sgt. Patricia Reynolds now, but back in 2016 she was fighting five herniated discs in her back and neck.
“I just gradually got very sick,” Reynolds said. “I started sleeping a lot, and my medical providers couldn’t figure out what it was that was causing me to sleep a lot.”
At one point, it meant the end of her career in the Marine Corps.
“How was I going to tell my children that I couldn’t finish something that I set out to accomplish?,” she asked. “That was a very big obstacle for me that I felt like I had to overcome.”
At the battalion, she found support she needed through her coach, Ken Limbaugh.
“We worked every single day that she came in here,” Limbaugh said. “She left tired.”
“Ken and I started working toward getting me ready to perform the physical fitness test considering that I had been found unfit by the DOD on my medical examination report,” Reynolds said. “I proved that I could pass the PFT with Ken’s help.”
Inspiring stories are not uncommon here at WWBn-E. Marines with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, autoimmune diseases and amputations are offered support throughout their recoveries.
In the battalion’s War Program, the body of the Marine is conditioned after injury. One of the first stops for new Marines is the Human Performance Center.
“They identify muscular skeletal ailments as well as talk to them about what their abilities are and what they think they need to work on,” Limbaugh said.
Inside you’ll find equipment like the Alter-G; a treadmill that uses air to decrease gravity on the runner.
“They’re zipped into essentially an air bladder and it will allow you to decrease the person’s body weight down to 40 percent or lower,” Limbaugh said. “It allows them to take the impact off their body.”
Each Marine is able to choose an activity in addition to the core strengthening: like cycling, kayaking and archery.
More severe injuries are conditioned in the hydro pool area, which features an underwater treadmill.
“We can control the amount of pressure that their body is able to feel,” Jaine Shanks, sports specialist, said. “We can remove up to 80 percent of their body weight in a hydro pool.”
But it’s the mindset of most incoming Marines that can prove the hardest obstacle to tackle.
“The hardest thing about it sometimes is the buy in, and trying to get the service members to realize that what we’re doing is actually worthwhile and is actually going to be beneficial,” Limbaugh said.
That’s exactly what Chief Warrant Officer 3 Charles Evanson did after he lost his left foot in a 2017 motorcycle accident.
“My mindset was just to get better and to get back in the fight,” he said. “There are a couple of options everybody has in life: give in, give up or give it all you got. The first two are not a choice for me, ever.”
Each Marine’s story is different, and there is no such thing as a cookie cutter approach here. Some Marines find the best option for them is to retire.
“I’m still able to get all of the advantages that Marines still get, except we get to grow beards and hassle everyone,” said retired Staff Sgt. Jay Lippmeier.
Regardless of whether they retire or not, they’re actively choosing to “Etiam In Pugna” or Stay In The Fight.
“Stay the course, stay in the fight, always faithful, they might be cheesy lines but they’re actually if you think about it fairly solid words,” Gunnery Sgt. Ricardo Baez said.
Once weak, frustrated and depressed, every Marine leaves WWBn-E resilient, strong and determined.
“Retirement and getting out of the Marine Corps is not the only route,” Reynolds said. “An open mind, to me, that’s the most important thing to tell every Marine coming into the battalion.”
“No matter what the adversity is, no matter what the condition, I don’t think that there’s anything that myself or anybody can’t overcome if they put forth their best effort,” Evanson said.
The battalion also competes in the Wounded Warrior Games. This past March, it hosted the games for the first time aboard Camp Lejeune. The commanding officer tells us they will be hosting the games again next year.