Posted on February 16, 2016
A self-described “average kid from Los Angeles County” who was into music and sports, Leon was a certified Marine before he had his high school diploma.
“I graduated from high school in 2002,” he explains, “and when the first semester of my senior year ended, I had all my credits, I just hung around waiting to get my diploma. My recruiter set it up so that I could go to boot camp, and my boot camp leave coincided with my graduation.”
Leon’s recruiter thought he should work with computers, but as Leon explains, “I wanted to be tough—I wanted to be infantry.”
His first deployment took him to Iraq for 10 months in 2003 with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. He served in Mahmoudiyah, one of several large towns in the region of southern Iraq known as the “Triangle of Death.”
“I was blown up a few times,” he says matter-of-factly. “I ended up getting blown up in a house and got blinded in my right eye. This happened June 11. I was knocked out, I came to, my brothers were still fighting in the house, and a combatant was trying to stab me. I got him off of me with the help of my fellow Marines, we cleared the house, then we packed up and left. My right hand was broken, and they took me off of patrols for a day or two.”
“They did surgery and restored partial vision in my eye,” he continues. “They tried to medically retire me, but I fought to stay in. It took me a little while, but I had to retrain to shoot with my left eye. Once I could shoot lefty, I could re-enlist, but I could no longer be a rifleman. I made a career change to mortar man in 2006 and I reenlisted.”
Deploying with a disability turned out to be something of a challenge for Leon, but he persevered. He was a range coach, teaching recruits how to shoot. “From there I went to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and I did training with them to deploy to Afghanistan.”
When it came time to deploy, though, Leon couldn’t meet the vision requirements and was forced to remain stateside. The disappointment repeated itself when he was offered a chance to deploy with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. “That’s when a new order came down,” Leon said. “There was a waiver, and as long as a unit was willing to take you, you could deploy.”
So in November 2012, Leon was off to the Helmand province of Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.
“I was blown up two times on that deployment. One time really affected me, it was my very last day on patrol. I was in a vehicle that hit a 35-pound IED. It gave me a concussion and a really bad headache.”
Leon returned stateside on April 19, 2013, and learned about the Semper Fi Fund shortly after he ruptured his right patella tendon while running. The injury resulted in surgery,
and when doctors checked his left knee, they found deteriorating ligaments and had to operate on both knees. “I’d been having pain in my knees since Iraq,” Leon noted.
“The Semper Fi Fund has helped me out a lot,” he continued. “For one thing, they helped me buy a bike. I do a lot of biking for my anxiety and PTSD. I used to run a lot, being over in Iraq, but then I couldn’t run because I had braces on my knees. That was the first piece of help they gave me. I also went to a golf camp in Colorado to learn how to play golf, along with other service members who went through similar things I did.”
“This is a group of people that does whatever they can to help you out, from financial help to moral support or a shoulder to cry on or an ear to talk to,” Leon says of his experiences with the Fund. “I know a lot of service members respect the job that the Semper Fi Fund does. I feel that the Semper Fi Fund’s job is harder than mine. The Fund’s isn’t told enough.”
“My time in the Marine Corps confirms how strong you can be as long as you set your mind to positive things,” Leon said. “It’s pretty amazing how good things can come out of something terrible. Keep pushing on and you’ll come out on top.”
Leon officially retired from service on February 27, 2015. On April 16, 2015, he and his wife celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary. They have three children—Jasmine (age 14), Leon Jr. (age 8) and Janiyah (age 5).
“I just completed my EMT course,” Leon says, “which I passed, with the help of the Semper Fi Fund—they helped me out with all the class fees. It looks like we’re going to be moving to Nevada, my wife has a job offer that’s really good, and I still want to be a trauma nurse.”
“Without the support of my wife and kids, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”