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Thread: Mending Marines
08-12-06, 05:48 AM #1
August 11, 2006
By JOE VARGO
Camp Pendleton officials announce the opening of a new rehabilitation center for Marines wounded in war
CAMP PENDLETON - Marine Corps commanders, acknowledging the war on terror has been bloody and will get costlier in the future, on Thursday unveiled a long-term recovery center for soldiers seriously wounded in combat.
The center, one of only two in the country for injured Marines on the mend, could help families of Inland-area leathernecks keep closer contact with their loved ones as they rehabilitate from injuries caused by bullet, shrapnel and roadside bombs.
The 28-bed center is not meant to replace major military hospitals such as those in Washington, D.C., Bethesda, Md., San Antonio or San Diego, which treat major trauma cases from around the world.
Camp Pendleton's facility is for soldiers who can live independently but face months of therapy and rehabilitation.
Officers likened their "wounded warrior center" to a halfway house for Marines who have recovered enough to leave the hospital but not sufficiently to return to their units.
Previously, Marines wounded in action were sent back to their regiments following their discharge from a military hospital and placed on restricted duty while assigned to their barracks.
The new center, modeled on one that opened last year at the Marine base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., allows injured war veterans to concentrate fully on getting better while living in a dormitory like setting much more comfy than communal quarters. Volunteers converted the former base bar in less than six weeks.
"Marines and sailors will live here and help one another heal," said Col. James Seaton III, Camp Pendleton commander. "They will share time, experiences and camaraderie."
Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, who commands seven West Coast Marine installations, said the war in Iraq has prompted commanders to find new ways of treating seriously wounded soldiers.
The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 Americans and left more than 18,000 wounded. More than 300 Camp Pendleton Marines have been killed and many more seriously injured.
"We know this war is going to go on a long time," Lehnert said. "This center will not only help those Marines who are rehabilitating but also those who cannot return to duty to transition to the civilian world."
Lance Cpl. Joshua Rynders, 20, of McHenry, Ill., and Cpl. Jackson Luna, 23, of New York City, were the first Marines to take up residence in the recovery center.
The center offers semi-private rooms with double beds, bathrooms, television and air-conditioning. PlayStation, too.
"This is the Beverly Hills of Camp Pendleton," said Rynders, who was injured in April when an 82 mm mortar shell landed 10 feet from him east of Fallujah. "This is comfortable living. You can't beat it."
Frank Bellino / The Press-Enterprise
Cpl. Jackson Luna, who was shot in the back by a sniper in Iraq, is one of the first Marines living in a new recovery center at Camp Pendleton.
Rynders suffered a concussion, shrapnel wounds and major injuries to his thighs.
He walks with a cane and says he doesn't know how long he'll be laid up.
Luna was shot in the back by a sniper in June. He could be out of action up to six months.
"This is a great place to be until I can get back to my unit," Luna said.
Family members will be encouraged to visit.
That will be a huge boon to Southern California families with injured loved ones from Camp Pendleton, said Temecula resident Fred Mercado.
His stepson, Navy corpsman Randell Leoncio, lost a leg in Iraq last year. Families of injured soldiers often have to travel long distances and lose time at work.
Leoncio, 24, is recovering in San Diego after stints in military hospitals in Maryland and Texas.
"It's financially difficult and mentally fatiguing," Mercado said. "This will be absolutely fantastic for those families."
“There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”
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