Posted on November 17, 2016
“Mortar rounds came close and knocked me into a brick wall, where I got a pretty heavy concussion,” says Marine Staff Sergeant Travis Noel, recalling a 2003 mission in Iraq during his third deployment. “It knocked me out for a little while. When I woke up, I was dazed and confused. I didn’t lose any limbs or anything, though.”
The Washington state native had enlisted in the Marines six years earlier. “I wanted to serve my country and travel the world,” he said. “I figured I could knock out two birds with one stone there by joining the Marine Corps and being an infantry guy, where they would send me around to different places, which they did.”
At the time, he probably never imagined he would be in the fight of his life nearly 7,000 miles from home.
“I drove on,” says Travis, continuing his story of the 2003 mission. “I knew I wasn’t right when it first happened, but claiming an injury wasn’t really an option. I didn’t want to sit out and watch my guys go fight without me.”
“We were the diversion. We were probably a half-mile away from the hospital where she evacuated from. We shot up a square block, and there was a 1,500-pound bomb that was dropped just on the other side of the river from us. That activated the rescue. We crossed over the bridge and went through a bunch of houses in about a square mile and tried to make as much noise as we could to divert any enemy forces that were around her. We were the diversion to try and bring any enemy combatants toward us and leave her unattended.”
“At the end of the night we got word that she was safe and sound and being treated by U.S. personnel and that she was in good hands,” Travis adds. “I really didn’t expect anything less than getting that word. It wasn’t a real shocker to me. We get a mission, and it doesn’t always go as planned, but overcoming obstacles, we do that well. We didn’t lose any guys within my actual team. There were definitely plenty of times where the enemy had a read on us and they could have got at us, but our show of force and the way we conducted ourselves by moving, shooting and communicating, we were at our pinnacle.”
After that mission, which received enormous national attention, Travis began experiencing significant aftereffects from the concussion.
“My head throbbed for weeks afterwards. I puked a lot. I was nauseous and sick quite a bit. But like I said, I didn’t want to take myself out. I worked in a six-man team. I didn’t want to turn my six-man team into a five-man team.”
After returning home several months later, Travis learned about the Semper Fi Fund.
“My best thing for my brain injury is physical fitness,” he explains, “so I’ve been competing in IronMan triathlons and triathlons in general for a long time. I’ve done probably more than 100 triathlons. A Gunnery Sergeant introduced me to the Semper Fi Fund and Team Semper Fi, and I’ve been a part of the team ever since.”
On July 24, 2016, Travis — through the support of Team Semper Fi — was able to compete in the NYC Triathlon where he finished sixth in his division.
“That was one of my dream triathlons,” he says. “I’d like one day to do the Escape from Alcatraz, but the NYC was in top two or three triathlons that I wanted to compete in. Team Semper Fi gave me that opportunity, and they are memories I’ll never forget. Swimming the Hudson and biking up around New York and through Central Park was a dream come true.”
“It boosted my spirits, more so the team aspect of it,” he continues. “Being around like-minded Marines who may or may not be missing limbs and being able to joke around with them with that Marine Corps sense of humor is therapy all its own. Getting us all together and having that camaraderie is something that I can’t put a price tag on.”
“The Semper Fi Fund is unbelievable,” adds this father of three, “better than any of the other organizations I’ve seen out there. It’s been a blessing in my life that I’ll never forget.”