University of Northern Colorado student, Purple Heart recipient raising money for organization that helped him

The Tribune | By Tyler Silvy 

John Reid didn’t know he was shot. But he remembers seeing pink mist.

He didn’t feel the pain of the 7.62-millimeter round — about the size of half your pinkie finger — tearing through his right forearm, shattering bones above and below his elbow, until finding cover in the Helmand Province, in the District of Now Zad in Afghanistan.

Reid earned the Purple Heart and retired a Marine Corps sergeant. Today, a little more than five years after he was shot Oct. 23, 2011, Reid is a junior at the University of Northern Colorado pursuing a career as physical education teacher.

That career wasn’t on his mind back then. His wife, Samantha, remembers talking to him on the phone soon afterward. He kept saying he was OK, but he sounded more frustrated than anything, she said.

“If they said, ‘Cpl. Reid,’ — he was a corporal then — ‘we can cut it off and send you back,’ he would have (gone for it),” said Samantha, who was 10 weeks pregnant at the time.

He spent a week and a half in Afghanistan and then Germany before arriving late on a Sunday at Bob Wilson Naval Hospital in San Diego.

A representative from the nonprofit Semper Fi Fund was there the next day. And as Reid has re-learned how to be a civilian, as he’s dealt with almost daily frustrations in an effort to let some things go — including, in a way, the Marines, Semper Fi has been there every day.

It’s little things, Reid said, like a Marine Corps-related Christmas ornament the organization sends every year.

“This little piece of metal — it means the world to me,” he said.

Now, with metal fused to bone beneath a nearly foot-long scar on his arm, Reid has healed, at least physically, and he wants to try to pay them back.

Traverse City has this race called The Ice Man Cometh. It’s a 30-mile mountain bike race Nov. 5 in Michigan.

He’s done it twice before, but not since November 2006, a couple of months before boot camp. His brother-in-law suggested it this year. Through a program called Support Through Sport, Reid is raising money for the organization that has been there for him since his first full day at the hospital in San Diego.

“My original purpose was just to pay them back for what they’ve done for me,” Reid said. “And I can’t even really put a dollar amount on that, because they’ve done so much.”

His goal is to raise $5,000 to give to the Semper Fi Fund. It’s actually his third goal, having surpassed the first two already. It’s likely he’ll set another if he gets to $5,000. He’s doing all of this while commuting from his home in Longmont to take a full schedule at UNC. When he comes home, it’s time for Lilian, 4, and 7-month-old Emma.

But he’s kind of a goal-oriented guy.

His wife, Samantha, tells a story to demonstrate.

Nine months after being medically retired from the Marine Corps, Reid was enrolled at Front Range Community College. He showed up 15-20 minutes early to his first class.

“We bought a label maker, and he labeled all of his binders,” Samantha said.

Then it happened. Students started trickling in 5 minutes late, 10 minutes late, 15 minutes late. One of them forgot a pencil!

“He said, ‘Sam, I don’t understand,’” Samantha said, affecting his an exasperated tone. “’These people, they were late. They were late and unprepared, and nobody cared.’”

Samantha said that’s part of the mindset he developed in the Marine Corps, a mindset that became part of him. The mindset that, “When you don’t pay attention to details, somebody’s life could be at risk,” she said.

Reid laughed when asked how his wife would describe him. He knows he’s had to adjust, to re-learn how to be a civilian, he said

“When we’re in, mission accomplishment is No. 1,” Reid said. “It doesn’t matter how you talk to someone. Obviously we have morals, but it’s very direct; it’s to the point.”

Coming back, whether it was dealing with pencil borrowers or changing the diapers, was hard.

“I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t having a hard time since I got out,” Reid said. “I was looking for something to bring back my warrior spirit — give me some drive every day, and motivate me.”

Right now, it’s raising money for Semper Fi. It’s almost a duty to the organization that paid for his plane ticket to see his parents for the first time after he was shot. Next, it’s throwing himself into his role as a teacher, a role Samantha suggested when he was still in the Corps. Samantha is a fifth-grade teacher in the St. Vrain Valley School District.

Through it all, the re-learning, the deciding, the frustrations, Semper Fi has been there.

Reid emailed his case manager at Semper Fi three or four times last week. He said he didn’t need anything, just talking. But maybe that’s what he needed. It’s what he needed five years ago too.

“The only people, in those hardest couple of weeks, the only people who brought us peace was the Semper Fi fund — besides friends and family,” Samantha said. “There were a lot of people that gave us (things), but they were never actually there. They’ve kept in touch ever since. I know they’re not going to let us slip through the cracks.”

Tyler Silvy covers education for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at tsilvy@greeleytribune.com.

Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.