May: Celebrating our Mothers – Robin Carpenter: “You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have”

Posted on May 6, 2o16

In November 2010, Robin Carpenter received the kind of phone call every mother dreads.

“We got home from church at noon and there was a message from Quantico to call back with regards to Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter. We knew right then. They told us on that initial phone call that he was the worst-case injured. I just wanted to be with him, I couldn’t bear that he was by himself.”

Kyle, the first-born son of Robin and Jim Carpenter (they also have twin boys six years younger than Kyle), was serving in Afghanistan. The 21-year-old infantryman had thrown himself in front of a grenade to protect a fellow Marine. His body was riddled with shrapnel and he suffered what the South Carolina legislature later called “catastrophic wounds in the cause of freedom.”

Those wounds included severe injuries to his face, including the loss of his right eye and most of his teeth. His jaw and right arm were shattered, and he’s had to undergo dozens of surgeries on the road to recovery. “He has 30 fractures in his right arm,” Robin notes. “I’m an x-ray tech, and if you could see the x-rays of his arm, it’s nothing but metal and broken bones.”

When Kyle was being transported back to the States after his injury, he traveled with another injured service member, an Army sniper named Ryan. Robin was unable to be with her son, but Ryan’s mother was on the plane.kyle_robin

“She spent time holding Ryan’s hand and Kyle’s hand,” Robin says, “and she told me you could hear them moaning, ‘mom.’ She said Kyle was moaning, ‘mom’ all the way back from Germany.”

It was while Kyle was recovering from his injuries in Bethesda, Maryland, that Robin first encountered the Semper Fi Fund.

“I did not have a clue what the Semper Fi Fund was until Janine [Kyle’s caseworker] came up to us in the hospital,” Robin recalls. “What they’ve done for us – the services, emotional support, unconditional love – there’s not enough words for me to describe. They truly do treat these combat-wounded service members as if they were their own children.”

“I will never not be appreciative of the Semper Fi Fund, and it’s not just the monetary support,” she continues. “It’s kind of like they know a need before you even know you need a need. They’re just so in tune. It’s the emotional support that they give you, I can’t even describe it. I don’t know what I’d have done without Janine these last five years.”

Those five years have been remarkably eventful. Kyle recovered from his injuries and ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2013 and 2014 (the 2014 run was filmed by ESPN). He and Robin have been the subject of a film called “Letters,” which will debut on Memorial Day 2016 at the G.I. Film Festival.IMG_1180

Most remarkable of all: On June 19, 2014, Kyle became the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor.

“We’ve had a lot of out-of-body experiences, and that was definitely one of them,” Robin says. “It’s so monumental, and we are so proud of him. We are very proud of his character — him doing that did not surprise us at all. We’re just very proud of the humble, kind, generous person that he is — for me, I’m just so proud of the way that he has handled his injury, that he can motivate others. The medal, I still don’t believe it.”

When asked if her experiences have taught her any lessons that would apply to all mothers, not just military moms, Robin referred to a favorite saying.

“You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have. I love that. People say to me all the time, ‘I don’t know how you do this.’ Kyle’s had about 30-40 surgeries, and I’ve sat in a waiting room hour after hour while he’s had surgery after surgery. You do what you have to do.”

“I believe God gave me the strength to get up and put one foot in front of the other, and that it was my mission to get him well and to get him independent again. There was not an option for me that Kyle wasn’t going to get better and live a full life. We just push through it every day.”IMG_1168

“We’re no different than any other parents,” she adds. “We love our kids and we just want them to turn into wonderful, moral, God-fearing people who will make good husbands and good employees and who want to give back.”

“I just have so much respect for any parent — if you have raised children, you have done something. It’s hard work. There’s nothing more precious and nothing more valuable. I cannot imagine not being a mom, but you have to be tough.”

“We’re just like any other parents, it just so happens that ours is a Medal of Honor recipient.”