Posted on November 18, 2016
Call Sergeant Julian Torres when he’s not near the phone, and you’ll hear the following answering machine message:
“Greetings. I hope this voicemail finds you in great spirits. If this is my only opportunity to leave a message to the world, I’d say: Number one: Life is good. Number two: You are in control of your circumstances, your circumstances do not control you.”
Julian ought to know: Circumstances during his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 did their best to try and take control of his life.
“We actually landed in a firefight on my first day,” says the Modesto, California, native who enlisted in 2006 and deployed with the 2nd Battalion 6th Marines to Marjah, Afghanistan, in June 2010. “The firefights were really kinetic.”
About a month into his deployment, on July 15, Julian stepped on the IED that would claim his left leg below the knee and his right leg above the knee.
“I remember all of it,” he says. “From the time I stepped on it, literally the light of the energy, the blast that went off, the sound of my voice, the shadow on the ground when I went up in the air, the dirt in my mouth—I remember it all.”
“As soon as I got hit,” Julian continues, “I said to myself, ‘My fight is over, I’m done fighting, wartime’s over for me.’ There was never a time that I didn’t know both legs were blown off. I didn’t try to stand up, I knew I couldn’t crawl out of that hole.”
“I was awake the whole time—and I remember the true feeling of relief when I heard the helicopter land.”
That helicopter took Julian to Camp Dwyer for treatment, after which he moved on to Camp Leatherneck on July 16. He traveled to Landstuhl, Germany, for treatment on July 17, and was back in the United States at Bethesda Naval Medical Center a day later.
“I remember hearing traffic and car horns,” Julian recalls. “It was pretty.”
The Semper Fi Fund first met Julian when he was recovering in Bethesda—“the Fund was there as soon as I was in my room”—and provided some initial family assistance for Julian’s wife, Ashley, and their two children, Julian Lucas and Analicia.
“Not only were they there,” Julian said, referring to the Semper Fi Fund caseworkers and staff, “but their ability to anticipate my wife’s needs was amazing. I was like, ‘take care of them, because I can’t right now.’ I can’t even put into a list the things they did for us.”
Assistance provided to Julian and his family included a vehicle grant so Julian could get a car, help with fencing at his home, and assistance to help rebuild his home after a fire on July 3, 2013.
“The Semper Fi Fund is, in my opinion, one of the few organizations that actually hold true to their mission statement,” Julian says. They’re there to support the veteran running the Ironman Triathlon and they’re there to help the vet who can’t pay his bills because he can’t remember to pay.
“What I believe separates the Fund from everyone else,” Julian continues, “is they make it personal. My case manager knows me, she knows my kids, she knows my wife. And if you need the money, if you’re in a dire situation, you can guarantee the money’s gonna be there in no time; as long as it takes FedEx to bring the check, it’s there.”
Medically retired from the Marines in 2013, Julian is enjoying every minute of his stay-at-home dad status.
“I love just being able to go grocery shopping with the kids, take the dog for a walk, have everybody inside and cook—sharing with everybody what was good about the day. I
do yard work—I just love living, man, I just love being here. Honestly, just being able to be here and to have this conversation.”
“You have to trust your struggles,” Julian says. “Trust the roadblocks. Trust the turbulence. Everybody needs a baptism by fire. You gotta keep living, you gotta keep moving. You just gotta try. There’s really nothing I haven’t been able to do, post-injury. Yeah, it’s a little unorthodox, unique and creative, but it’s getting done—this is the new reality and it’s good, it’s all good.”
And what’s the one thing Julian wants people to know about his story?
“My voicemail,” he says without hesitation. “Just being here on planet earth—to me it’s a great opportunity to be here, I enjoy being here, and I enjoy having the opportunity of drinking coffee and talking and everything in between.”