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    Still pushing: Cpl. Rory Hamill

    Group Photo

    Photo By Master Sgt. Matt Hecht | Cpl. Rory Hamill, a combat-wounded Marine, stands for a portrait with the New Jersey...... read more read more

    NJ, UNITED STATES

    02.13.2018

    Story by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht 

    New Jersey National Guard

    I

    The blades of the New Jersey National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk erupted in a cacophony of sound. Despite this noise, Cpl. Rory Hamill’s face remained stoic.

    It had been more than seven years since Hamill was on a helicopter. That day was Feb. 13, 2011, and he was being evacuated from a mud-spattered compound in Marjah, Afghanistan, an agricultural town in the violent Helmand Province. The lower half of his body shattered, medics on the aircraft were fighting to save his life.

    “I remember lifting up, and flying away,” recalled Hamill. “Seeing my guys get smaller and smaller and feeling like I let my guys down…and then I died on the helicopter.”

    Hamill suffered grievous injuries, after stepping on a pressure plate improvised explosive device. He lost his right leg above the knee, and had damage to his other limbs.

    “All this stuff started coming out a few years ago,” said Hamill. “I thought I was fine, but it took me some time to realize things weren’t alright.”

    His past deployment experiences coupled with his injuries caused Hamill a deep depression that led to alcohol abuse and a feeling suicidal. He knew he needed to turn a corner in his life.

    “After one bad night, I found myself looking into the mirror, and realized that I needed to figure this out for my kids,” said Hamill. “They’re the driving force in my life.”

    In addition to his kids, the other driving force in Hamill’s life is a calling to help fellow veterans.

    “I don’t like quitting, at all,” said Hamill. “Call it pure stubbornness, but I don’t like giving up. I’ve always been told I can’t do stuff my entire life. It’s made me want to prove people wrong.”

    II

    February in Marjah, by all accounts, was miserable. Dirty, muddy, and freezing.

    “The air was cold, but fields were so humid, you would choke, you couldn’t breathe,” said Sgt. Jonathan Moulder, Hamill’s squad leader with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “It was hell.”

    The days consisted of long foot patrols from their combat outpost, and terrain that was made nearly impossible by the occasional torrential downpour.

    Feb. 13, Moulder recounted, was another day, another miserable foot patrol.

    “A local tipped us off that there was an improvised explosive device in a compound near us,” said Moulder. “We decided to check it out, and since Rory and I were senior we decided we would do it because we didn’t want the “kids” to get hurt.”

    Pulling out a mine detector, Hamill swept the ground looking for a positive hit on explosives, while the other Marines set up a security perimeter.

    “He must have walked over the pressure plate a couple times,” said Moulder. “The mud was pretty bad and kept it from initially going off.”

    Moulder saw Hamill waving the detector near a doorway, then watched in horror as a massive detonation threw Hamill’s body into the air.

    “I won’t ever forget the smoke, dust, and pain,” said Hamill. “The sky. I remember the sky vividly, as I faded in and out. How blue it was. How peaceful. I remember the quiet and stillness around me, like nothing else existed for those brief moments. It was all so surreal.”

    Hamill’s injury spurred the Marines into action.

    “I heard a horrible scream, and yelled for the Corpsman to come up,” said Moulder.

    Marines surrounded the wounded Hamill, assessing injuries.

    “In an instant, I snapped back to reality. The searing pain, the sheer agony,” recalled Hamill. “All I could focus on was my children. All I could focus on was if I would ever see them again.”

    Once a tourniquet was placed on Hamill’s right leg, Moulder sent a 9-line MEDEVAC request over the radio, and waited.

    “We got a soft stretcher, and carried him out to the LZ,” said Moulder. “He was conscious and gave one of his guys a pep talk.”

    Once Hamill was loaded onto the helicopter, Moulder said Hamill looked at him and said, “See you on the flip side,” and then the MEDEVAC roared off into the sky.

    Hamill, according to Moulder, was the most committed Marine he knew, and was all about the mission.

    “I’m very proud of him,” said Moulder. “Doing jiu-jitsu, competing in tournaments, and working on becoming so physically strong after being hurt. He’s come a long way.”

    III

    Hamill was in and out of consciousness on the MEDEVAC helicopter, being kept alive by the medics on board.

    He was stabilized at Camp Bastion, before ultimately heading to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the second time in his life.

    “I was born at Walter Reed,” mused Hamill, the son of two Navy Sailors.
    Hamill noted that his recovery time at Walter Reed was one of the most difficult of his life.

    “The guys there were great, and a lot of us could relate, but if you're injured it’s a depressing place,” said Hamill.

    Getting fitted for a new leg was an arduous process, but one that Hamill is proud of. The leg is actually composed of two different computers and motors, one in the knee and one in the ankle.

    The advanced prosthetic has put Hamill on the cutting edge of robotic limb research.

    “About every year, the company that makes the prosthetic, Ossur, takes my leg back and downloads all of the biometrics, since I walk more than a normal amputee should,” said Hamill. “That’s another way I can help give back something that will hopefully help out other amputees.”

    Hamill has spent time with scientists at Ossur trying to advance their studies with robotic limbs.

    “A lot of the stuff I’m learning, they’re learning,” said Hamill. “When I test a prototype, there’s a team watching and making adjustments. They give me the device, and I walk as best I can. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but they learn from every experience. They do a lot of stuff with children with disabilities too.”

    The leg is so advanced, with Bluetooth technology, Hamill can access diagnostics with a computer tablet.

    “This system is suited for everyday life,” remarked Hamill. “It’s an active system that learns your walking pattern and style, and has a trip recovery system to try to keep you from falling. My quality of life is insane.”

    IV

    “I have good days and I have bad days.”

    A normal day for Hamill starts before five in the morning, rolling out of a large, comfortable looking bed in a clean, well-kept house in Lakehurst, N.J.

    Hopping around the house with a crutch, Hamill’s routine seems like anyone else’s, until it’s time to put his leg on.

    “This thing is pretty amazing, each computer has its own charger,” said Hamill, pointing down to the prosthetic.

    Tank, a pit bull-French bulldog mix shared by Hamill and his girlfriend, rolls around playfully on the floor, excited for his morning walk.

    “Tank means a lot to me,” said Hamill, his voice breaking slightly. “I don’t think his previous owners treated him well, and he gets a lot of love in this house. He’s a good dog.”

    After Hamill walks Tank, he gets ready to head to the gym on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, where he works in logistics. Physical fitness has become a large part of Hamill’s healing and coping process.

    “I work out, and that helps. If I wake up in the middle of the night having a nightmare, I go to the gym. I do Judo, I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” said Hamill. “If you see me in the gym working out, looking focused in the mirror, I’m processing stuff. I’m dealing with stuff and getting it out.”

    V

    Staying connected with veterans and keeping up lines of communication is something Hamill finds therapeutic for himself as well as for the folks he connects too.

    “I still stay in touch with the guys I deployed with, but I also get random messages from strangers,” said Hamill. “Just last night I got a message on Instagram from someone married to a veteran who was asking for advice. It’s why I like sharing my stories. Instead of wallowing in this pit of misery, I want to be able to turn this positive and help people. Even I just inspire one person, it’s worth the effort.”

    When it comes to veterans organizations, Hamill is critical of their motivations, and prefers to talk one-on-one with fellow veterans.

    “It’s all the same stuff. Everyone has the same mission. People aren’t genuine about their intentions,” said Hamill. “Someday, I want to start my own veterans organization that just helps people. Bring it back to the basics.”

    VI

    As a wounded combat veteran working on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Hamill has made connections with various units to share knowledge and learn from his combat experiences. One of those units, the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 150th Aviation Regiment, New Jersey National Guard, has elements with a MEDEVAC mission.

    On Jan. 24, 2018, Hamill accompanied a UH-60L Black Hawk crew on a training mission.

    “Walking out to the bird, I was reminded of running out in sticks, loaded to the teeth with weapons, grenades, and ammo,” said Hamill. “Everything was juxtaposed between the beautiful day and my wartime memories. It was a humbling experience.”

    Lt. Col. Glen McElroy, commander of the 1-150, was ecstatic to have Hamill visit his facility, to assist future MEDEVAC deployments to hot zones throughout the world.

    “This guy is a real hero,” said McElroy. “He has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and I want him talking to our folks who have never done the MEDEVAC mission in a combat zone.”

    Hamill hopes that through his actions, he can continue to inspire others.

    “Sometimes it’s hard for me to justify my existence. I feel guilt, surviving when my brothers haven’t,” said Hamill. “There have been plenty of moments where my life should have been snuffed out, permanently, yet somehow I’m still here. Somehow I’m still pushing.”

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 02.13.2018
    Date Posted: 02.13.2018 11:36
    Story ID: 265859
    Location: NJ, US

    Web Views: 748
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