Staff Sergeant Jesse Cottle, USMC (Ret.)

December 11th, 2013

We wouldn’t be at all surprised to find this photo of Staff Sergeant Jesse Cottle and his wife Kelly on many “best of 2013” lists. It’s a remarkable illustration of service and love—and the Semper Fi Fund is honored to have played a small part in it.

Jesse joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and served three deployments as a radio operator in Iraq. He transferred to an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team, spent two years in Japan, and was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2009.

SSgt. Jesse Cottle, USMC (Ret.) and his wife Kelly in their iconic photo that was seen around the world in 2013

SSgt. Jesse Cottle, USMC (Ret>) and his wife Kelly in their iconic photo that was seen around the world in 2013

Cottle (far left), along with members of the 3rd EOD Company, 9th ESB attached to 2/3 Golf Company in Afghanistan

Cottle (far left), along with members of the 3rd EOD Company, 9th ESB attached to 2/3 Golf Company in Afghanistan

On July 19, 2009, Jesse’s EOD team was clearing IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in support of a Marine infantry company. Jesse stepped on a pressure plate with his left foot, triggering the explosion that claimed both his legs.

He received immediate medical care, including the amputation of both legs, and was transported to Camp Bastion (the main British military base in Afghanistan) overnight, then to the U.S. Air Force Base in Bagram, Afghanistan, and then to Landstuhl, Germany.

A week after the explosion, Jesse arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he remained for four weeks. He was transferred to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, where he began the outpatient phase of his recovery after a total of eight surgeries.

The Semper Fi Fund’s assistance to Jesse and his family included family support grants, assistance to his parents to make home modifications, funds to purchase a special therapeutic mattress and a lightweight wheelchair, a hand-cycle grant and grants for transportation to and from San Diego while his vehicle was being modified.

Free of the stress of financial concerns for himself and his family, Jesse was able to focus on recovery. He received his first set of legs in September 2009 and walked on them for the first time right after Thanksgiving. He walked out of the hospital on his own with two canes in January 2010, but by midsummer the canes were gone.

“If I hadn’t stepped on that IED I wouldn’t have met her,” Jesse says. “I wouldn’t take it back ever.”

Jesse and Kelly (a swimmer for Boise State) met at a swim meet in San Diego during his recovery. “I remember being very intrigued by him,” Kelly said. “He was very different and not just because of his legs, but because of who he was.”

The couple was married in 2012, and the iconic photo was taken in 2013 at a family gathering.

“The photo really says it all,” Jesse told ABC News. “I actually look at it very much as a symbol for our whole relationship in general. She’s physically carrying me, but there’s times where she’s carrying me emotionally. It’s a perfect representation of who Kelly is.”