By Thomas Brennan | The Daily News – Jacksonville, NC | jdnews.com | July 21, 2013
As the dust from the blast began to settle, Raymond Mackey knew his life had changed forever.
“We were doing a company-sized patrol near Marjah, Afghanistan – a sweep for improvised explosive devices,” said retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Raymond Mackey, 50, of Beulaville. “I was with the rear element with a couple Marines when a Marine fell into a ditch. I reached down to help him up right as the explosive was detonated.”
It was Dec. 23, 2009 and Mackey, the battalion sergeant major of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, was only a few weeks into his tour in Afghanistan. The explosive left him with both legs amputated above the knee, and severely wounded his right arm and injured his abdomen.
“I knew my legs were gone,” Mackey said. “I tried to start my first tourniquet, but don’t think I was too successful at it …The whole time I don’t remember being scared. Believe it or not, I remember being at peace.”
Mackey recalled only traces of his medical evacuation to the United States.
“It wasn’t until the end of January that I started to get my focus back,” Mackey said. “I remember going in and out of it but I remember a few things vividly – asking to see my wife when I got to Walter Reed, a senator bringing me a birthday cake and a young lady with the Semper Fi Fund.”
Dozens of organizations stopped by Mackey’s room offering condolences, appreciation for his sacrifice and services, but one stood out in his mind, he said.
“I had just lost my legs and I was bedridden,” Mackey said. “I couldn’t exactly take care of my wife like I was used to doing. She was taking care of me. When Semper Fi Fund stepped in, she had someone to look after her, to take care of her for me.”
The Semper Fi Fund is a non-profit organization started in 2004 that provides immediate and continuous financial support for injured and critically ill members of the armed forces.
Mackey had to focus on therapy.
He was intent on standing on his own, waiting for his Marines to get off the bus at the end of their deployment, he said.
“Ninety days after the blast I took my first steps,” Mackey said. “I didn’t know how much of a challenge I was setting myself up for. All I knew was that if I didn’t walk again the enemy would win and Marines don’t let the enemy win.”
With only one week on a new set of legs, Mackey greeted his Marines off the bus and now, years later, Mackey still is setting milestones, he said.
“It’s been a long, hard journey but worth every second of it,” said Mackey, who as of July 15 took his first steps with a pair of prostheses equipped with pivoting ankles. “I’ve come to the realization that I am this way for a reason. I’m going to make the very best of my new life.”
Transitioning from the Marine Corps to civilian life is a challenge for all service members, but for those who are injured, it might be even more difficult because they don’t get to leave the Corps on their terms, he said.
“It’s scary as hell making that transition into the unknown,” Mackey said. “But once you’re part of the Semper Fi team, you’re theirs forever. When we had nowhere to turn, they were there. When we were lost, they helped us find our way. They’re my angels in red shirts. Thank God they were there for us.”
If it weren’t for the Semper Fi Fund’s support, Mackey’s wife Vickki would not have been able to be at his side as often during his recovery, she said.
“I got to watch him take his first steps,” Vickki Mackey said. “Nothing can explain how proud I was of him and how great it was to share that moment with him. To see the smile on his face was priceless.”
It has been a long journey since receiving a phone call from the Marine Corps telling her that her husband had lost his legs – a phone call that brought her to her knees in tears, she said.
“It is so awesome to see the growth and the change,” Vickki Mackey said. “Baby steps are a huge milestone. It’s all about the next milestone. Everything is a big deal when it comes to achieving independence.”
The Semper Fi Fund recently provided her husband with an all-terrain motorized wheelchair, something that allows him to go anywhere and do anything.
“It is amazing to find such a selfless organization,” she said. “They say ‘yes’ before they ask any questions. You just don’t see that nowadays.
“My husband said it best: ‘They are angels in red shirts,’” Vickki Mackey said. “We’re eternally grateful to them and will forever call them family.”
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