Posted on October 28, 2016
In selecting Navy Hospital Corpsman Jose Ramos to host their 2016 Marine Corps Marathon event in October, the Semper Fi Fund certainly made an excellent—and appropriate—choice.
“I told Karen [Guenther, President, Executive Director and Founder of the Semper Fi Fund] that anytime she needs anything from me, I will never say no,” Jose said. “It’s gonna be a room full of amazing people —hundreds of folks, all with some pretty impressive stories of what they’ve gone through in life, and then another couple of hundred more who have helped raised awareness, which in itself is pretty darn impressive. So I don’t know what I’m gonna say yet, but I definitely want to stress the importance of everybody there in whatever role they have.”
Jose has a pretty darn impressive story, too. Born in Mexico and raised in El Paso, Texas, he initially wanted to join the Coast Guard in order to do search and rescue work. At the time, the Coast Guard wasn’t taking new recruits, so that led him to the Navy.
“They talked to me a little bit about being a Corpsman. It appealed to me to work independently, to work with Marines, and obviously working with medicine as well as being on the front lines with the Marine Corps, so that was the route I decided to take.”
Jose enlisted in March 2000 and, less than a month after the events of 9/11, was on his way to Pakistan. Later that same deployment, he served alongside the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit as they became the first U.S. troops to go into Afghanistan.
Two more deployments followed: In 2003 he served in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and a year later, he volunteered to return to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “I left the states in the spring of 2004,” Jose says of his third deployment, “and was injured on July 28.”
Jose was part of a group that was out for several days on a mission to locate where mortar fire was coming from and stop the attacks. “We typically go out at night under cover of darkness and come back at sunrise so we’re not as exposed,” he explains, “but that day we were unable to get back into the schoolhouse we were operating from when the sun came up.”
“We took some fire, some indirect fire,” Jose continues, “and a rocket hit the schoolhouse and took my left arm off. I remember a huge loud explosion and I feel this burning sensation on my back on my left side. I turn to look and I see my arm dangling there.”
A tourniquet was placed on Jose’s upper left arm and he was taken to a field hospital in Fallujah. A few days later, he woke up at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he became one of the first service members to be assisted by the then-new Semper Fi Fund. “I remember them being there all the time, coming into my room,” he said.
Jose has since become a very active member of Team Semper Fi. “I’ve always thought being physically active helps you mentally,” Jose told USA Today in 2013. “So for me, it’s simple. Just go out and train to do something.” Not always easy when, in addition to missing one arm, you’re also dealing with five bulging discs, nerve damage in one foot and deterioration in various joints.
In 2013, for example, Jose, who medically retired from active service in 2005, went out and ran 20 miles of the 26.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon. Why did he stop short of the full distance? Turns out he had bicycled 120 miles the previous day—but physical fatigue wasn’t the reason.
“I was actually training for an Ironman, so my training cycle required I bike 120 and run 20,” he explained. “Everything in me wanted to complete the 26; I literally talked to my coaches, trying to figure out how to complete the whole marathon, but the extra six really tears down your body, and I didn’t want to affect my Ironman training.”
Jose didn’t run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 or 2015, but he will be running it this year—right after he hosts the Semper Fi Fund’s pre-Marathon pasta dinner. Perhaps in his talk at the dinner, he’ll reflect on what his experiences have taught him about life and people that the rest of us may not know.
“I think that what I’ve learned the most is that we are such giving people,” he says. “I didn’t realize how much people
really cared about each other collectively. Just from those who volunteer, those who give— to me, the most impressive thing is the support I received from all my friends and family, and most importantly from all these people I don’t know. That we can come together collectively—there’s a huge portion of this society that truly does care, regardless of everything else.”
“I think the biggest help to all service members is to get us back in the community, to bring us in, to ask us how else we can contribute,” Jose adds. “We have so much to give back, so many qualities to contribute that get lost because of everything else. We have so much to offer—and we might have lost a limb, but we have so much more to give, so help us give more and don’t limit our opportunities based on one small perception.”