Posted on December 21, 2016
Jason Pacheco enlisted in the Marines on July 15, 2006. He did so in large part to honor his grandfather, Orlando Gonzales, who was also a Marine.
In January 2008, Jason left on his first of four deployments, with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which lasted until July 2008. A six-month deployment with the 11th MEU began in September 2009.
Two deployments to Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, followed. The first began May 2010 and ended about three months later when Jason, who was serving as a Scout Sniper Team Leader, stepped on an improvised explosive device.
“August 3, 2010, I stepped on an IED in Marjah, Afghanistan,” he recalls. “My right leg was amputated below the knee. I had a right femur fracture. My left leg was salvaged, but I had extreme soft tissue damage.”
In addition, Jason suffered a mild traumatic brain injury from the blast, which also caused his left pinky finger to be amputated, ruptured both ear drums and left pieces of shrapnel throughout his body.
The Semper Fi Fund met Jason while he was recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. We assisted his family in a variety of ways, including airfare for his brother so that he could be by Jason’s side during his critical recovery time.
“They actually provided me with a lot of resources that I could use,” says Jason’s wife, AnnaLeigh. “I wasn’t working. I had quit school to take care of him. Financially, we still had bills to pay, so that really helped us. Plus, the Semper Fi Fund put some finances toward a vehicle that could accommodate him and his wheelchair.”
And then Jason returned to Afghanistan for a fourth deployment.
His unit was scheduled to deploy in August 2011, and Jason was told that he would be able to join them if he completed the Combat Fitness Test, which according to Military.com requires Marines “in battle dress uniform to sprint a timed 880 yards, lift a 30-pound ammunition can overhead from shoulder height repeatedly for two minutes, and perform a maneuver-under-fire event, which is a timed 300-yard shuttle run in which Marines are paired up by size and perform a series of combat-related tasks.”
As the Marine Corps Association and Foundation website reported in 2015, Jason was able to “execute the sprint and the ammo-can lift, but struggled with the fireman carry in the maneuver-during-fire exercise. Finally, Pacheco’s months of hard work paid off. He completed the CFT, finished months of pre-deployment workups in a few weeks and joined his Marines in Afghanistan in November 2011. He even deployed to Afghanistan a second time in 2012 and was the first amputee to return to a combat zone while holding a combat arms military occupational specialty.”
“I think between my husband and I, the biggest thing is actually being there for each other, getting through this process together,” says AnnaLeigh. “We know life is short and we know the value of life. We don’t want to waste life and take stuff for granted, because you never know when something can go wrong.”
And when things have gone wrong for Jason and AnnaLeigh, the Semper Fi Fund has been there to help. In 2016, for example, our assistance included gas cards to help Jason get to and from his many medical appointments, financial support for needed repairs on their truck and spa gift cards for AnnaLeigh to help her get a break and refresh herself in the face of her many caregiver duties.
“Life happens,” Jason says. “All this stuff happens — car trouble, financial issues, family issues — that’s how life is. Semper Fi Fund was always there, no questions asked. I can’t ask for anything better than for somebody to always be there. Even just to talk. That helped us a lot.”
Today, Jason serves as a combat instructor. “All the infantry guys come to me. I teach them some of the basic rifleman skills. What I teach during our course, I teach about IEDs and all the medical stuff for combat casualties. Most of the time I don’t tell them about me, like who I am. But some of them find out because articles have been written about me or other instructors tell them before class. It really hits home with them and they really listen. I’ve been there and I’ve lived through it, so they get a lot out of that rather than having somebody who hasn’t been through that teaching them. It gets their attention. It has real-life relevance.”
“Hopefully the stuff that I teach will keep them from getting hurt,” Jason adds, “or if somebody does get hurt, giving them the skills necessary to save their life and their buddy’s life.”