Wounded corpsman transferred to Florida trauma unit

Cherokee Scout Photo of Andrew Long 8.23.11
Andrew Long, a U.S. Navy corpsman who was wounded in Afghanistan, uses a special door to get into the driver’s seat of his extended cab Chevrolet 2500-series truck that the Veterans Administration paid to modify extensively to meet his needs. Photo by Scott Wallace/Cherokee Scout

By Scott Stambaugh | Cherokee Scout | Cherokee Scout | August 23, 2011

Andrew Long, a U.S. Navy corpsman shot in Afghanistan in October, has transferred to the Tampa Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in Florida, a Veterans Administration facility that provides intensive rehabilitative care to veterans.

The transfer comes after nearly a year of recuperation at various VA facilities, as well as at home in Murphy. It required much lobbying by Long for the transfer to be affected.

Long, who is still technically on active duty, said the Navy was unreceptive to his lobbying and the transfer would not have happened without the intervention of the U.S. Marine Corps and affiliate organizations. Long was attached to a Marine Corps unit at the time of his injury.

“[The Navy] didn’t want to pay for the move, they didn’t want to pay me to go down there. They pretty much just sent me home and forgot about me, and said, ‘Take care of your own [problems].’ They left it up to me to find my rehab places, to find my tri-care and work all my insurance out. So the Navy has done nothing,” Long said.

“I wouldn’t be doing anything without the Marine Corps. They’re the only one’s that have helped out. Literally, I love the Marine Corps. I can’t stand the Navy.

“The Marine Corps’ been helping us out the entire way. The Marine Corps’ paying for us to move down there. They’re even paying the deposit for my house, my pet deposit, my first month’s rent. That way I didn’t have anything to worry about anything except getting rehab started. … They are awesome. The Semper Fi organization, the Wounded Warriors regiment, they are awesome organizations. The Navy sucks.”

Long suffered a spinal injury after receiving machine-gun fire during his first weeks in Afghanistan. He is paralyzed from the waist down.

Long refuses to resign himself to never walking again. While he has had some feeling and muscle movement returning to his legs, he said he has been unable to receive any rehabilitation that acknowledged the possibility of him walking again.

Tampa Polytrauma, however, was willing to work to rehabilitate his legs. However, the difficulties with the Navy made reassignment there more difficult than it should have been.

“I don’t worry about anything they say. I’ll take little tidbits, but I don’t worry about anything they say,” Long said. “Everywhere else they keep telling me, ‘You’ve got to work out your upper body, you’ve got to work out your upper body.’ My upper body’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it.

“Why are you telling me to work my upper body? My lower body’s what’s hurt. … This place is the only one that said, ‘We’re not worried about upper body. Lower body’s the issue, so that’s what we’re going to do.’ I was like, ‘Thank you!’ ”

The Marine Corps has an avowed allegiance to Navy corpsmen who serve with them in the same capacity that the more commonly known “medics” do in the Army. Long said his situation has had repercussions beyond just his case.

“Since [the Marine Corps] found out about my case, they took up three other corpsmen who were having the same problems I’ve been having. The Marine Corps take care of their corpsmen big time,” he said.

Long has weaned himself off of all pain medication, and is noticeably more alert and clear-minded than he’s been since returning home. He has purchased an extended cab Chevrolet 2500-series truck that the VA paid to modify extensively to meet his needs, and also acquired a friend in the form of a Labrador retriever/husky mix named Boot.

In late April, Long traveled to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to welcome the Marine unit with which he served back home, and subsequently learned that his initial understanding of the events of the day he was shot were not entirely accurate.

The engagement in which he was injured was initiated by the explosion of an improvised explosive device, after which the Marines began taking fire.

“Apparently, everything that I thought happened when we first talked was way off,” Long said. “I thought I was lying down when I was shot, but that’s not what happened. When I was carrying the guy out, I got hit by a machine-gun burst. They said as soon as I started standing up, I got hit by the machine gun burst. Obviously, I got hit in my lower back, and that,” he said, pointing at his shoulder, “is just a graze. And they found one in my plate carrier, so I got shot three times.

“We were always trying to figure out how the bullet went [from my shoulder] all the way through me, and I still lived. But apparently it was one bullet that came in, hit my spine, went up through two ribs and stayed in my lung. And that’s why they had to take out my left lung. So, yeah, I was hit three times, and two of them made me bleed.”

Long has his first appointment Tuesday, after which a therapeutic regimen will be designed.

“I will be walking before I leave [Tampa Polytrauma], come hell or high water,” Long said.

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