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Staying Power: Seriously Wounded Warriors Return to the Fight

Marine Returns to Help Others on Road to Recovery
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Pull-ups are harder for Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Kachmar since two of his right fingers were amputated after a bomb blast in Iraq in 2005. Kachmar didn't lose the fingers immediately, but later elected to have them amputated to increase his mobility. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III
Pull-ups are harder for Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Kachmar since two of his right fingers were amputated after a bomb blast in Iraq in 2005. Kachmar didn't lose the fingers immediately, but later elected to have them amputated to increase his mobility. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III  Hi-Res

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Quantico, Va., July 21, 2008 — When Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Kachmar extends his right hand to greet combat wounded Marines, there is an instant rapport.

A combat veteran himself, having fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Kachmar, 24, can trade stories of blood and war; of buddies lost and battles fought.

But, Kachmar's three-finger grip speaks louder than his words ever could. It says he understands the pain, the process and the path to healing.

Those who haven't been seriously wounded "can't relate to getting flown away from your buddies, bleeding and in pain, mad at yourself because you want to go back regardless of the injury." Kachmar said. "You can't relate to lying in that bed at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center] for months at a time."

Kachmar is now part of the "Tiger Team" that helps those evacuated to U.S. military hospitals work their way through the recovery process. He also is one of the 2,700-plus Marines who have opted to stay on active-duty since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom despite injuries that could have released them from their obligation to the Corps.

Becoming a Marine

"The Marine Corps is all I know," said the Pittsburgh, Penn., native. "But I'm really good at doing what I'm doing. I like what I'm doing. And the Marine Corps has taken care of me."

Before joining the Marines, Kachmar was a self-described "bad kid" who spent more time on the streets than in school. He spent some time in the juvenile penal system and realized his life was heading in the wrong direction.

"I was on a road of destruction as a teenager and didn't like what the future held," he said.

Looking around at the older guys still hanging out on the streets and getting into trouble, Kachmar decided it was time for a change.

"Geez, I don't want to live my life like this. I don't want to live in this town. I want to do something," he remembers thinking.

His dad was a former sailor, so, because of the historic rivalry, the Army was not an option, Kachmar said. His father consented to the Marine Corps because it was a department of the Navy.

Kachmar was 17 at the time, and had just finished his junior year in high school when he went to see a Marine Corps recruiter.

It was an easy day for the recruiter.

"I don't want to talk about joining the Marine Corps, I just want to do it," Kachmar recalled telling the recruiter, and soon signed on the dotted line to serve as an infantryman.

Unfortunately, his impending service, which was to begin after graduation, didn't keep Kachmar from getting into more trouble. In his senior year, he was expelled. His academics were in line, but officials wouldn't let him finish the year.

So Kachmar headed to boot camp early. When he returned from Marine basic training, school officials granted his diploma.

"They said, 'Good job for doing something with yourself,'" Kachmar said.

Getting Into the Fight

On June 24, 2002, Kachmar checked into the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and left in September for Afghanistan. There he worked at the embassy providing security.

"It wasn't walking around the city kicking doors in but it was enough for a young guy to kind of see the overall picture," he said.

I used to be a stud. I can barely do anything (now). It's kind of  de-motivating, but at the same time it's motivating. You look back on where you were and where you are at and it's like 'I've really got to get my butt in gear.' It gives you a goal.

He later saw combat during a 2004 deployment in Afghanistan, and he returned to the United States by Christmas of that year itching to fight in Iraq.

"That's what you join the Marine Corps to do - to fight. We had plenty of a fight in Afghanistan, but I wanted to see the other theater. I wanted to do my part in both countries," Kachmar said.

So, he transferred to a sister battalion and left for Iraq in March 2005.

His battalion was based in Fallujah, Iraq, and his Alpha Company was about 15 miles north in a small town. There they were looking for improvised explosives, patrolling, conducting raids and providing security.

Kachmar recalled that period as one of "good times" because he said that being a squad leader watching over 13 other Marines, was "the best job in the Marine Corps."

"Everything that the Marine Corps infantry does, we were doing out there," the Marine said. "I got to fight in Afghanistan. I was getting my chance to fight in Iraq. We were kicking [butt] and taking names."