MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The Wounded Warrior Battalion-East officially became their own battalion in a ceremony here, June 29.
The Wounded Warrior Barracks started simply as an idea.
“I had come up with the idea and found Gunnery Sergeant Kenneth Barnes and asked for his opinion,” said Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, a Wounded Warrior’s advisor with the battalion. “He thought it was a good idea, so I brought it to Lieutenant General Amos’ attention. He was the II Marine Expeditionary Force commander at the time.”
The Wounded Warrior Barracks made up of only 12 Marines, began in the fall of 2005.
“It really started out as a barracks with six rooms, and it’s grown to a full battalion organization,” said Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, commanding general, II MEF.
The battalion is the first of its kind in the Marine Corps. It allows wounded Marines to be around other wounded Marines. Together the Marines can help each other cope with the dramatic change their lives have taken.
“When your unit is in Iraq and when you’re here because you’re injured, it’s an absolute gut wrench,” said Maxwell. “The Marines really feel guilty, and we try to help that.”
The battalion is also a place for the Marines to heal. Eventually, some Marines are physically able to return to their units. The rest have a difficult path ahead.
“Well over 50 percent have made it back to their units,” Maxwell said. “If a Marine can’t rejoin his unit, he can choose a new military occupational specialty or get out. It’s a very hard decision.”
Maxwell also said there is an incredible amount of paperwork involved in getting out of the Marine Corps. The battalion works with the Marines to help with whatever decision they have made.
The process of setting up the battalion was not easy.
“There are challenges anytime you start something new, but the support has been overwhelming,” Maxwell’s wife said.
In the end, the difficult process was a worthwhile one.
“The battalion is a great step for the Marine Corps and our Navy partners,” Stalder said. “(The battalion) starts to realize General Conway’s vision for wounded warriors.”
The battalion not only takes the Marines into consideration but also the families.
“It will continue to be a team effort to ensure our wounded Marines, sailors and their families are assisted and supported in a manner that they so richly deserve,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Siebenthal, the commanding officer of the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East.
From six rooms to an entire battalion, the wounded warriors have come a long way.
“It was a little idea about not being alone, and it grew into a whole regiment,” Maxwell said.