What a Way to Come Home

Home Fires: Five Iraq War Veterans on Their Return to American Life

June 4, 2007, 9:30 pm

By Michael Jernigan

My name is Mike Jernigan. I am a United States Marine Corps corporal who was medically retired in December of 2005. I served in Iraq for six months out of a seven month deployment. I was blinded by a roadside bomb on August 22, 2004 during a patrol near the town of Mahmudiya. Coming home was wild ride. I was medevac’d to the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

A few hours after I was airlifted my godfather, an Army colonel who was in Iraq, came to my bedside to sit with me for as long as he could. Upon hearing the news of my injury, my mother had immediately called his home in the states. She reached his wife and was told he was out of the country. But he quickly got the message over in Iraq and a few hours later drove over to the hospital. From there he became my mother’s eyes and ears. He held his satellite phone up to my ear while I was lying in a medically induced coma so that my mother could talk to me. I learned later that during these times my blood pressure would rise. The doctor had said that was a good sign; it meant I still had some brain activity.

I was later transferred to Landstuhl, Germany where I was met by my father. At the time he was working in Stuttgart, just a few hours away. I was there for two days receiving more surgeries to stabilize me. It was a very touch-and-go situation. I was told I flatlined a few times on the operating table, which was a very stressful time for my father. He had served in Vietnam but was not prepared to see his son come home like this. The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps at the time, Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, came up to my father and gave him a big hug and told him that his son was going to be O.K.

I was soon airlifted to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. I was lucky in the fact that my father and stepmother were able to ride on the medevac plane with me. It was very reassuring to know that you get to go to the same hospital as the president of the United States. Here I was taken to the intensive care unit. The rest of my family — my mother, stepfather, brother, wife, and even my mother-in-law were awaiting my arrival. I am a unique case in the fact that I was surrounded by family every step of the way.

I was not only blinded but had also suffered a traumatic brain injury. My entire forehead was crushed and removed. My right hand was completely reconstructed. I am still missing my second metacarpal phalangeal joint and half of my fifth metacarpal phalangeal joint. To this day I still have limited movement in my right hand. I have come to affectionately refer to it as my “Bob Dole” hand. I also received severe trauma and had major surgery on my left knee. I now rock some wicked cool scars that include a 14 inch-long one that runs from temple to temple across the top of my head. I still wear a regulation high and tight haircut and all my friends tell me I should grow my hair out. My chest puffs out and I tell them you don’t need medals when you have scars like mine.

The crazy part is that this was the easiest part for me. Not long after I came home to St. Petersburg, Fla., it became apparent to me that my wife had lost interest. Two years and two months after my injury we were divorced. When we split I found out that she had spent all of the money I had earned plus all of the money given to us in private donations. I was then trying to make it on my own with little financial means, but the strong support of my entire family.

I completed a 16-week blind rehabilitation program at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Augusta, Ga. This was the most instrumental step on my path back to independence. There I learned how to clean a house, do my laundry, iron my own clothes, and even cook my own meals, which is a great thing because I am a very talented cook. I learned how to do basic maintenance around the house to include rewiring a lamp and fixing the plumbing underneath the sink. As part of my manual skills instruction I completed a couple of woodworking projects. I made a gorgeous two-story birdhouse from a kit and also built a bird feeder shaped like an old style covered bridge from bare lumber. This program has taught me that even without sight I can lead a very productive life.

Although suffering from my injuries might seem like an unfortunate incident, it has provided me with many great opportunities to better myself. I have taken advantage of the ones that interest me the most and look forward to any more that may cross my path. In the next few weeks I will be able to share more about life after Iraq with you.
—————

Michael JerniganMichael Jernigan served with Easy Company, Second Battalion, Second Marine Regiment during the summer of 2004 in Mahmudiya, Zadon, and Falluja. On August 22, he was severely injured and blinded by a roadside bomb. He was medically retired from the Marine Corps in December of 2005. He lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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Published in: on June 10, 2007 at 12:18 am  Leave a Comment  

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