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On the third anniversary of his survival, recently retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond H. Mackey, a double amputee with Wounded Warrior Battalion East, mounted his brand new Harley Davidson Tri-Glide for the first time on Dec. 23, 2012, in Jacksonville N.C. Mackey, who has ridden motorcycles for more than 35 years, lost his legs in an improvised explosive device accident while serving with 3rd Battalion 10th Marine Regiment, in Helmand province Afghanistan in 2009.

Photo by Cpl. Daniel Wulz

'I wasn’t going to let the bad guys win' Wounded Warrior gets back on motorcycle after 3 years

12 Feb 2013 | Cpl. Daniel Wulz

All motorcycles share similar controls regardless of style or brand. Most of them have manually operated clutches controlled by using the left handle's lever to engage or disengage the clutch and the left foot-pedal used to shift gears up and down. On the right side, both the handle's lever and the foot-pedal are used for breaking the front and rear wheels respectively. This is common knowledge for the experienced rider.

For Sgt. Maj. Raymond H. Mackey (Ret.), former battalion sergeant major of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, all of his breaks and shifting are done completely by his hands. He has custom hand controls designed for racing motorcycles installed on his brand new Harley Davidson Tri-Glide, often called a trike or three-wheeled motorcycle. The specialized controls are a necessity for Mackey.

While on patrol in the volatile district of Nawa, one of Mackey’s Marines slipped and fell into a ditch. Mackey leaned down to pull him up and unknowingly stepped on an IED, triggering an explosion that resulted in him losing both of his legs.

A battalion sergeant major does not normally accompany his Marines on a patrol, but Mackey is a different kind of leader.

"I wholeheartedly believe that you can't advise the battalion commander if you don't know what the troops on the ground are thinking," said Mackey, a native of Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Mackey had been a motorcycle rider for more than 35 years at the time of his accident.

"When this happened, I wanted to get back to as normal as I would ever get back to,” said Mackey. “I wasn't going to let the bad guys win by not getting on a motorcycle, and I was determined to find a way to ride again. I looked into everything that there was that could assist me in getting on a bike again."

Ultimately, Mackey decided to purchase a three-wheeled trike and not a standard two-wheeled motorcycle after finally being able to get up on a bike less than five months ago.

With some help from the New River Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership, Mackey picked out a motorcycle and found ways to get custom hand controls installed. Specialists and engineers from Adaptive Cycling, a Florida-based motorcycle company, had some ideas about how they could install hand controls and sent them to New River Harley Davidson.

Jeff Myers, a salesman at New River Harley Davidson and a retired Marine, played an essential role, helping Mackey purchase the bike as well as coordination in assembling the bike.

"We're absolutely thrilled to be doing this," said Myers. "This is an opportunity to show all wounded warriors they can still ride American Iron. A lot of guys who rode before may have given up their desire to ride, but now they can try again. That is at least our hope."

On December 23, 2012, which marked the third anniversary of his brush with death, Mackey received his brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle, customized precisely for Mackey to use without his legs.

As he started the motorcycle up for the first time, surrounded by friends and family, Mackey leaned in to listen to the engine and shouted to the audience above the noise, "Is it on?"

After the bike’s maiden voyage, Mackey said that because of the rehabilitation he did at Walter Reed Medical Center, he was pretty accustomed to working with his truck’s hand controls. Riding the bike for the first time was not difficult after riding for more than 35 years.

“We got along from the first moment we met and she didn't buck me off," said Mackey.

Mackey was plagued by the thoughts that he would never ride again early on, but he was determined to get back on the bike.

"I was always kind of stubborn," he explained. "People told me, ‘You can't be a Marine. You're too stubborn to be a Marine.’ I thought, ‘Yes I can. I'm going to be a Marine,’ So thirty years later, I have to retire and now being a double amputee I have people telling me, ‘You can't do that. You're a double amputee.’ I'm still thinking, ‘Yes, I can.’ So I hope in some way that I set an example, not just for other wounded warriors and amputees but for Marines. You can do the impossible.”

Mackey, who had his retirement ceremony last November, is currently spending time with his wife, two sons, two daughters and of course his new motorcycle.

"At first all people initially see is the bike. Then they pull up closer and see I'm missing my legs and think, ‘Oh, that's awesome!’”