Posted on December 08, 2015
“Special thanks to the incredible generosity of one very special family for helping to provide funding for this important program in memory of their brother who wished to remember whose who serve.”
On May 25, 2007, my husband, Ryan, was a Cobra pilot deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of the Global War on Terror. He was in Jordan conducting the unit’s last exercise before heading home. It was a live-fire range at night, and Ryan’s helicopter was on the ground, fully loaded with ordnance.
Overhead, Marine Harrier jets were doing their bombing runs. One of the Harrier pilots became disoriented and dropped a 500-pound bomb on Ryan’s helicopter. The Cobra was blown to pieces, and the fuel cell under Ryan’s seat ignited. Ryan was burned over 25 percent of his body, face, head, hands and arms. His left hand was crushed and he lost his left leg below the knee.
Meanwhile, I was back in Jacksonville, NC, seven months pregnant with our third child. My two girls and I had no idea we were about to pack two suitcases and get on a plane headed to San Antonio, TX, where we would spend the next three years and three months and Ryan would undergo more than 50 surgeries.
My Semper Fi Fund case volunteer, Sheryl Reid, visited me within 48 hours of my arrival at Brooke Army Medical Center.
I believe that the Semper Fi Fund is really in the business of providing two things. One of them is comfort. But not comfort as a luxury. Comfort as a lifeline.
They paid to have my minivan driven from North Carolina to Texas. They provided me with a furnished apartment to bring my newborn son home to, instead of a dingy hotel room. They covered the airfare and expenses for our family to come out to Texas when it was time for me to have the baby, because I would no longer be there to take care of Ryan. And because I would be recovering from a C-section for weeks, they made sure I had family there to help take care of me, too.
When Ryan was finally discharged from the hospital, they knew he would be spending a lot of time in bed, so they provided a Tempur-Pedic mattress to reduce the occurrence of bedsores. And because the water in San Antonio is so hard on the fragile new skin of a burn survivor, they provided a water softener for our home in base housing. They regularly hosted dinners at a local Mexican restaurant, so the Marines and their families could get together outside of the hospital environment. And once a month, they hosted a night out at The Cheesecake Factory for the caregivers to get to know other women who understand what you’re going through. And after months and months of me and Ryan being a nurse and patient, they provided respite so we could spend time together remembering what it means to be a husband and wife.
While they are generously providing these and many other examples of comfort, they are also unknowingly providing something else that is much more important, and that’s confidence. You see, when you are sitting around with other Marine families laughing and talking over dinner, you are building confidence that maybe, despite your scars and your wheelchair, you can take your family out to dinner in public in the community.
When your doctors finally give you permission to start driving again, the Semper Fi Fund provides a vehicle grant so you can purchase a car that has an automatic transmission and
is big enough to carry your wheelchair. And you are building confidence that after months of being chauffeured around like a child, you can be independent again. The Semper Fi Fund is always there for us. Knowing that gives you confidence that maybe you can move on after injury.
The women of the Semper Fi Fund, they “get” me. They know that my husband could be their husband. My story could be their story. Because Marines do dangerous work, in war and at peace. They train the way they fight, with dangerous equipment in dangerous scenarios. And accidents happen. So as long as there is a United States Marine Corps, there will be a need for the Semper Fi Fund. And I know the Semper Fi Fund will always be there for us.
-Pam Voltin, wife of Captain Ryan Voltin