“I joined the Marine Corps to really get going in life,” Carlos told us. “I enlisted in 2009 — I just needed to get out of my city and do something with my life.”
That “something” involved becoming a combat engineer through the First Combat Engineer Battalion based in San Mateo, California, at Camp Pendleton. Nicknamed “The Super Breed,” the First Combat Engineer Battalion provides mobility, counter mobility, survivability and limited general engineering support.
A not-so-typical day for Carlos occurred about two months after arriving in Afghanistan, on November 20. It started normally enough but ended up changing his life forever.
“We didn’t go out very far,” Carlos recalls, talking about his patrol that day in support of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, “maybe 150 to 200 meters out of our base. The area we were crossing through was heavily traveled by us.”
“My friend and I were talking, about what exactly I’m not sure, and the next thing I know I’m down in a ditch face-first in the ground with dirt in my eyes. I had this loud ringing in my ears, then I got a burning sensation in my legs. So I rolled over, and that’s when I saw everything.”
What Carlos saw was that both his legs had been blown off as the result of him having stepped on an IED. “In my line of work as a combat engineer, we have this saying — either you find it, or it finds you. That was pretty much what happened. It found me.”
Both of Carlos’ legs required amputation above the knee. He also suffered a broken left femur, a mild traumatic brain injury and lacerations in his eyes. He was medevac’d by helicopter, placed in a medically induced sleep and treated in Afghanistan and Germany before arriving in Bethesda, Maryland. After two weeks of surgeries and rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Carlos was transferred to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, commonly referred to as Balboa Hospital.
Carlos and his wife Jacki first learned about the Semper Fi Fund while he was being treated at Walter Reed.
“It was myself, my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law who showed up to Carlos’ bedside in Bethesda,” Jacki told us. “He also had a younger sister and his dad who wanted to be able to see him, but the Marine Corps only paid for three people to travel to Bethesda — so the Semper Fi Fund actually paid for his dad and his sister to fly out there. We didn’t know about that until later on.”
After transferring to Balboa, Carlos and Jacki met June, who would become Carlos’ Semper Fi Fund Case Manager.
“She asked Carlos if there was anything he needed to keep himself entertained while he was in the hospital,” Jacki recalls. “They set him up there at the hospital with a Nintendo. When he finally got out of the hospital, the Semper Fi Fund gave him a grant to help with a new vehicle that would be adapted for him. He started in sports and was doing handcycling and wheelchair basketball, so the Fund paid for his handcycle. He began participating in events with Team Semper Fi and they paid for his lodging and everything.”
Jacki has also taken advantage of the retreat weekends provided by the Fund’s Caregiver Support Program.
“Those are awesome,” she says. We’ll do a paint night, massages one day and just enjoy being able to totally relax.”
“They also have psychologists and psychiatrists come in and talk to us about the TBI and PTSD that affects those we’re caring for, and how that in turn affects us. The weekend also gives us a chance to meet other caregivers who are going through similar situations.”
“As caregivers, we very rarely think of ourselves,” Jacki continues, “but the fact that the Semper Fi Fund thinks not only of the veterans but their caregivers as well, it’s just really heartwarming. It makes us feel appreciated, and it ends up helping us better care for our spouses.”
These days, when Carlos isn’t enjoying spending time with his wife and their two young children, he remains active in sports like handcycling and wheelchair basketball. He’s also going to school with the goal of attaining his master’s degree in social work.
“The Semper Fi Fund has done so much for us,” Carlos says. “They think about us, that’s what I love. June always calls to see how I’m doing or if I need anything. She makes us feel like family.”