Posted on June 1, 2017
“I want to fly.”
That — along with simmering anger over the events of 9/11 — was the main motivation causing high school student, Jorge, to visit an Air Force recruiting station in May 2004.
After speaking with the recruiter, Jorge bumped into a pair of Marine recruiters as he was leaving the building. They talked with him about the Corps and his desire to fly, gave him a test, and before long Jorge had qualified to be a helicopter crew chief.
Jorge deployed to Iraq twice — first in 2007 and again in 2009 — flying in CH-53E helicopters. Halfway through his second Iraq deployment, Jorge redeployed to Afghanistan, where he decided to become a crew chief on UH-1Y (commonly known as “Huey”) helicopters.
“I felt I wasn’t getting enough time on guns,” Jorge said. “CH-53s aren’t assault helicopters, they’re support helicopters.” Deployed again to Afghanistan in 2010, Jorge got lots more flying and gun time.
Jorge returned to the States and by mid-2011 he was at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, training to return once more to Afghanistan … until July 6, 2011, when a training flight went horribly wrong.
“The helicopter 360’d in the air,” Jorge explained, “crashed into the side of the mountain and rolled down into a pile of dirt.”
Six crew members were on board: two pilots, two instructor crew chiefs and two student crew chiefs. Jorge was one of the instructors; the other one died in the crash.
Jorge suffered a shattered and splintered left leg below the knee (amputation was considered, but never performed), a skull fracture, brain stem damage and lung contusions.
“The Semper Fi Fund found out I was in a helicopter crash,” Jorge recalls, “and they didn’t know who I was, all they knew was I was a Marine who got hurt. They offered to help my wife — she took time off from work and brought my mother out to see me. Later on, by the time I was going through mental health treatments, they contacted me and gave me an iPad to better help retain notes and use mental health apps.”
“They’re amazing,” he adds. “They’re an organization that steps in and acts as your best friend and gives you anything you need to get ahead in life.”
In addition to the assistance he noted, the Fund also helped Jorge obtain his first road bike (“when I’m cycling, I’m having a lot of fun, it’s great exercise”) and has helped him participate in Team Semper Fi events.
In April 2016, Jorge (who medically retired from the Corps on June 29, 2014) joined a dozen other athletes as part of a 13-member team cycling cross-country to bring awareness to veteran issues.
“We started in Oceanside, California and we finished at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. We pretty much followed Route 40 all the way through.”
Jorge, who has 26 pins, plates and screws in his left leg, notes that he uses an upright road bike with a clipless shoe system and wears compressive gear when he’s riding. The Fund helped him with some compressive clothing and assisted him in finding a coach to help with training (“I just get on my bike and ride til I’m tired!”) as well as with nutrition and training plans.
“I’ve gone through some dark times,” Jorge says. “Flying helicopters was my passion, and when that was ripped from me, I looked at my wife and kids, they drove me to be there for them. My wife has relentlessly supported me, and I love the fact I can spend all the time in the world now with my kids.”
“No matter what happens, no matter what obstacles or challenges we face, at the end of the day there is nothing that we as individuals can’t overcome,” Jorge adds. “Everything happens for a reason. That reason may not be clear at the time the seemingly worst thing is happening, but there’s a reason behind it. Someone somewhere — science, God, whatever — has a plan, so just keep pushing along, do what makes you happy, and be there for others.”