MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – “It went off, we heard him scream, I was looking at Simone when it went off and where he was standing was just a big dust cloud,” Montgomery Ala., native, Sgt. Bjorn Cantrell said. “Then, we heard Simone scream out to us that he was hurt.”
The morning of Aug. 24, 2011 began with the Marines of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, preparing to step out on a blocking mission. They were tasked with protecting engineers along Route 611 in Sangin, Helmand province, Afghanistan, as they repaired a wall damaged by a roadside bomb. Not long after they were in place, 19-year-old Montville, N.J., native Lance Cpl. Adrian Simone, carrying 110 pounds of ammunition, water and equipment – nearly his own bodyweight – stepped on a pressure plate and changed the course of his life indefinitely.
“I was standing over the (improvised explosive device), I bent down and heard a pop, not loud at all, then felt the concussion,” Simone said as he retold his experience. “There wasn’t any immediate pain. I remember seeing my legs fly off, because they were amputated right there. I came back to and heard the ‘EEEEE’ sound as the dust was settling. I was in a hole and I knew I had to get out so I started to climb out and realized my muscles were shot. I couldn’t move so I started screaming for help.”
Cantrell, Simone’s squad leader, rushed to his aid, applying tourniquets to his legs alongside squad members Lance Cpl. Cory Mays and Lance Cpl. Pat Sutton. The Marines began to treat him for shock and, when the corpsman arrived, he was given morphine for the pain.
“I was so surprised and then I looked down and saw my legs and they started hurting,” Simone recalled. “There were burns and the smell of seared flesh and homemade explosives. There was a lot going down.”
“That was the most scared I’ve been in my whole life,” mentioned Cantrell. “I was scared that I was going to mess things up and he was going to bleed out. It felt like an eternity. Everyone talks about muscle memory, but I just remember putting the tourniquet on.”
Meanwhile, Simone’s platoon commander received the news one of his Marines had been injured.
“I remember being in the (combat operations center) and we weren’t far away so we heard the explosion,” Annandale, Va., native 1st Lt. Stephen Grodek said. “It hits you like a ton of bricks and you never expect anyone to get hit, but it’s a huge realization when you hear the explosion and you hear the call come in and place it to a Marine of yours – it’s a whole new experience.”
He was rushed by helicopter to Landstuhl Region Medical Center in Germany where he stayed briefly before being sent to Walter Reed Army National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Sept. 1.
His recovery was remarkably quick, driven by his desire to stand and welcome the Marines of 1/6 when they returned home from their deployment. He was rock climbing and building upper-body strength within two weeks of arriving at Walter Reed. In a month and a half, he was walking again. He overcame his initial challenges, but there was still a dark obstacle to overcome.
“Getting off drugs was hard; that was the hardest part,” mentioned Simone. “I needed them because I was in so much pain and then I got a real dependence on them. My sister told me she saw I had a big dependence on Oxycontin. So I said take it away; I quit cold turkey. Every day I was upset about everything. I had a lot of pain.”
He eventually shook his dependence and started lifting weights. He knew he wanted to make it back to his unit. During his recuperation, Simone reflected on his time in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, life is simple: you either die that day or you don’t die that day. You just do your job. When you go to a place like Sangin with a ton of IEDs, you have to put the thought in your mind you might die today. You can’t think about it, you can’t care about it, you just need to do your job and if you step on an IED then well, you step on an IED and hopefully you won’t lose that much. But, it’s a possibility. This is war.”
When given the option to stay in the Marine Corps or be medically separated there was no question in Simone’s mind.
“Getting out was not an option for me, same thing with joining the Marines, if I hadn’t done it, If I had gotten out, I wouldn’t be able to live the rest of my life with myself. I have a pride problem, it’s how I am. I got one taste of winning and I’m addicted. I’m not bragging ever or trying to talk myself up. A lot of guys get out because they lost their legs, I got lucky. I have both arms working perfectly. I have options and gifts, and I’m still here. If I’m able to walk and run, I’m able to train. Why wouldn’t I go back to my unit? That’s where I’m needed.”
Simone continues to set the example by striving to succeed every day. Currently, Simone is going through Corporal’s course to develop leadership skills and physical fitness. He overcomes any challenge by sheer will and modestly shows the Marines anything is possible.
“He is what the Marine Corps needs in personality, confidence and leadership,” said Grodek. “He is all those things. His dedication to life, his family and the Marine Corps has far surpassed anyone I’ve met and it leaves me speechless.”