Posted on November 21, 2016
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Borrego had intended to enlist in the service right after high school. When he was accepted to Fullerton College about a half hour south of L.A., though, he decided to go to school and study criminal law and medicine.
“I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to serve,” he says, “but I put it on the back burner for a while. When I was 28, I had gotten to a point in my life where I thought, ‘I gotta do it now or I’m never gonna do it.’”
So in July 2001, Mario enlisted in the Navy.
“Desert Storm had kicked off right when I was gonna join up. I figured, ‘Thank God I didn’t join at that time.’ I came to find out that no matter what time in my life that I joined, I would have been in some kind of combat. It was always in the cards for me either way, I guess.”
Mario was attached to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (nicknamed “the Magnificent Bastards”) when he deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in February 2004.
“I gave them medical support,” he explains. “Not only emergency medicine, but preventative medicine, too. They get a cough or cold, I have to give them medication for that. I’d do regular sick call as well as go out and walk patrols with them. Plus I would go check the water and make sure it’s palatable, make sure everybody is up on their shots. I’m one of those necessities of life for the Marines!”
A few months into his deployment, on July 24, Mario was the one who needed medical support.
“It was actually supposed to be my day off,” he recalls. “The senior Corpsman in our area came by and said, ‘It’s not your day off anymore. I’m going to have to trade you with another guy.’ So I took his place with the Quick Reaction Force and we left the base in a bit of a rush.”
“The first thing that happened every time something was going down was that guy usually selling donuts or oranges on the corner, his business was closed,” Mario continued, “and everybody on the street selling their wares or hanging out were all gone. The place was a ghost town, everybody had disappeared. Somehow they knew what was going on before we did. We realized that we had to keep our heads sharper than usual.”
“Maybe about 500-600 meters outside the gate, there was a parked taxi, but not close enough to the curb that would be considered just a parked car. It looked like it had hastily been parked. The car bomb blew directionally up and down instead of out toward us. I was in the last vehicle in the convoy. I was usually out walking, but this was the one time I was in a vehicle. The Humvee I was in was open, so it had no exterior protection to it. Before the driver could take evasive action, the thing blew. I saw the explosion.”
Mario took shrapnel to the face, neck and arms, suffered a grade 3 concussion and incurred damage to his fifth cranial nerve.
“I stayed there checking and making sure everybody else was fine,” he says. “Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey Doc, you’re hurt, too.’ I thought I was sweating, but it turned out that blood was coming out of my upper lip and my neck and arm area. I didn’t even realize what was happening, I was too worried about doing my job.”
Mario bandaged his wounds and kept going. Though corpsmen were in short supply at the time, he was sent to Baghdad for X-rays; he was away from his unit for only a day or two. He returned and completed the deployment, which lasted into October.
“I had a hard time adjusting when I first got out,” Mario says of his return to the States and subsequent departure from the Navy. “I was supposed to start working for the police department, but nobody would hire me with my injures. It was making hard times ever harder.”
“I was out maybe a year or so and a veteran buddy told me about the Semper Fi Fund. They helped me out with a couple of grants, and helped me a lot in working with the VA. They did so much — my mortgage, utilities, food, gas cards, back-to-school family day, caregiver retreat for my wife, car repairs, service dog needs, woodworking tools. You know, the gas cards, they sound like a small thing, but they helped me get back and forth to my appointments. That helped a lot.”
“Any veteran that I’ve run into that’s having a hard time or needs direction, I give them the number of the Semper Fi Fund. They’re a good resource not only to help with financial situations, family issues and home issues, too.”
“It’s hard enough for a veteran to get to a point in his life where he needs to ask for help,” Mario added. “Semper Fi Fund makes it easy for veterans to realize that they’re going to get help. When you get to the point in your life, it’s good to know that somebody is there to help pick you up.”