Posted on December 15, 2016
In 2007, having just celebrated his 18th birthday, Colorado native Evan Stratton was thrilled to be joining the Marines.
“I had some really good friends who joined,” he says. “At the time, when you’re 17, those decisions come for whatever reasons an insightful 17-year-old can come up with. But I wanted to experience more of the world and have a sense of purpose. With that mindset, the Marines were very alluring to me.”
Following basic training, Evan was assigned to the 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion in Camp Pendleton, California. A few months later, he deployed to Iraq as a member of Police Transition Team 4. “We were responsible for training and advising the Iraqi police force, and were responsible for the stabilization of the region.”
In February 2009 Evan deployed to Al Qa’im in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. On July 19, 2009, his team was ambushed with RKG-3 anti-tank grenades and small arms fire. During the attack, he received shrapnel wounds across the left side of his face, neck and arm.
“During my triage, it was discovered that a piece of shrapnel about the size of an AK-47 bullet had entered my neck, prompting immediate surgery,” he recalls. “During the surgery, they found that the shrapnel had pushed up against my carotid artery and stopped without puncturing it. I feel extremely blessed to be alive.”
“Among my other wounds I had a traumatic brain injury, shrapnel that entered through my eyelid into my eye bed and my left spinal accessory nerve was severed, causing paralysis of my left trapezius, shoulder and upper arm. It’s an injury that took years to heal and rehabilitate and that I still struggle with to this day.”
Evan’s experiences have taught him some important life lessons at a young age. “The greatest lesson I have learned is to never say, ‘Why me?’ Instead, I have adopted a ‘What now?’ mentality,” he says. “The answer to that is to live an amazing life of gratitude. While recovering from my injuries, I heard the best quote that has motivated me ever since, from Marcus Aurelius: ‘Lose your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears.’”
“I rejected my sense of injury,” Evan continues, “and went on to compete in the 2013 Warrior Games where I won five gold and two silver medals. I competed in track, taking silver in the 1,500-meter, silver in the 4×1 relay and gold in the 100- and 200-meter. I also competed in swimming, where I took gold in the 50-meter free, 100-meter free and 50-meter backstroke, as well as breaking all the records for the above-elbow injury category. I have been amazingly blessed in my life.”
“There was a team from the U.K. and Prince Harry attended and was a huge fan of it,” he says. “In 2014, he established the inaugural Invictus Games, which is much like the Warrior Games, but at an international level. Thirteen countries each send their wounded and injured service members to compete against other countries.”
Evan was on Team USA for the 2016 Invictus Games and competed in track and swimming, coming away with a bronze medal in 50-meter freestyle.
The Semper Fi Fund has assisted Evan several times over the years, and he is generous with his praise for the Fund and its staff.
“They have always been there from the very first phone call,” he says. “I’ve been involved with different military organizations and different nonprofits. All of them have come and gone, but the Semper Fi Fund has been there through the entire time. There is no organization like the Semper Fi Fund. They are just so incredible. I don’t know where these people come from or how they come to be – especially working with veterans, because it’s such a difficult thing. There are these rare people that just come along every now and then, it’s almost like it’s their calling.”
Today, Evan speaks at various events around Colorado and works with for-profit and nonprofit organizations to help establish veteran employment programs, connect veterans with job opportunities and coach veterans on resume writing and job searching. “My passion is helping other veterans gain employment,” he notes.
“I’m 26 now, and I’ve been thinking about the future and what I want to do a lot lately,” says Evan . “With the support of the Semper Fi Fund and Team Semper Fi and others, I’m at this point in life where I’m helping, working and being successful. So in the next 10 years, my potential is absolutely unlimited.”
“I’d like to start a family at some point,” he adds. “Find a nice girl, have some kids, that sort of stuff. That’s definitely something I’d like to have in my life.”