Wounded Warrior Diaries: Marine Celebrates ‘My Life’ Day of Recovery
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2008 Some people join the military for the educational opportunities, or for the travel benefits. Others join for the challenge.
Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Kachmar returned to active duty after being seriously wounded in Iraq in August 2005. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Seeking that challenge was the main motivator for one young Marine who joined the Corps in January 2002. Staff Sgt. Daniel Kachmar, who grew up in Pittsburgh, said he had a calling to join the Marine Corps.
“I needed some direction in my life so I joined the Marine Corps,” Kachmar said. “[I] found that direction, found a calling, [it] kind of put me in my place to achieve and set forth goals for myself.”
Kachmar was no stranger to the military. His father served a stint in the Navy, and his older sister was a Marine.
If challenge was something Kachmar sought when first coming into the Marine Corps, challenging opportunities is what he encountered during his three tours in Afghanistan, one in Iraq and one tour to Guantanimo Bay, Cuba. During his five deployments, he served as an infantry squad leader, which according to Kachmar, “is the best job in the Marine Corps.”
His most challenging opportunity came on Aug. 25, 2005, a date Kachmar won’t forget and one he says he celebrates, despite getting hit by an improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb.
“I got hit on Aug. 9 and eight days later is my birthday. Then eight days after that, Aug. 25, I was hit again. So, August is a busy month for me,” he said.
The size of the IED that hit Kachmar on the 25th “should have killed me,” he said. “It’s a miracle that I’m still alive.”
Now Kachmar doesn’t celebrate his birthday, but rather Aug. 25th as an affirmation of his life, calling it “my life day.”
“When it’s your time, it’s your time, and no matter how fast you run when it’s your time, it’s your time,” he said. “And it wasn’t my time.”
“I’m Thinking It’s a Brown Out”
The day of Kachmar’s injury started like any other day, he said. “[It] was a typical hot morning, just like every other morning in Iraq. Load the boys up on the truck, head out, try to find IEDs,” he said. “Everybody thought it was just another IED we’re going to find, wait a couple hours for [explosive ordnance disposal] to come and bow it up, and then follow along with the mission.”
As Kachmar’s squad continued with their mission, his men were conducting their sweeps.
“I had my first fire team and my second fire team on the south side of the road, and my third fire team was about 300 meters behind us on the north side of the road, and I was parallel with the first team on the north side of the road,” added Kachmar.
Kachmar said he organized his men parallel of him in order to best protect him. “If we did stumble across this IED, I wouldn’t watch one of my Marines get blown apart,” he said.
“So we’re sweeping, sweeping, sweeping, just like any other IED sweep. Nothing, nothing, nothing,” he said.
“So, we get right about where the grid is for this IED and the next thing I know, I came to in a cloud of dirt. I had no recollection of what happened, no idea what’s going on, and I’m [thinking] it’s a brown out,” Kachmar said, referring to a sandstorm.
Not realizing he was injured, Kachmar tried to get up, but soon realized that his leg was broken due to a large piece of shrapnel that ripped right through his tibia and fibula. Kachmar’s injuries included severe damage to his right hand; and a severe mangled left leg. Doctors were able to save his left leg by transferring some of his abdomen muscles into his leg; and his right hand was saved by using nerves and veins from his right leg.
To add to his confusion right after the IED detonated, Kachmar couldn’t see any of his Marines. So he did what any wounded Marine would do, he [attempted to]crawl out of the big dust cloud.
“As I’m crawling away I look at my hand and see blood just spurting out and that’s when I realized … I’m hit,” he said.
While Kachmar was receiving assistance from his corpsman and other team members, the unit was barraged by enemy fire. After a hectic few minutes, his unit managed to transport him by convoy through the chaotic streets of Fallajuah and deliver him safely to the main camp.
Kachmar was taken to Camp Fallujah where a Navy medical team was waiting for him. The reality that he would be leaving his men behind and could no longer protect them sank in.
“They put me on a stretcher and started taking me into the building, and at that time, I realized I’m probably not going to see my Marines again, and it hurt me,” Kachmar said. “That really upset me, and as they were carrying me in the building and I remember holding my head up and looking and seeing all my guys standing there and, you know, they were all kind of shook up.”
Leading the Wounded
For Kachmar, all he wanted was the opportunity to serve with his Marines again. He wanted them to know that he was going to be OK.
Despite his deployments, Kachmar doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He believes those who fought and died in combat are the real heroes.
“You don’t really witness heroism until you’re in combat with someone and see them go,” said Kachmar. “They don’t do it just to seek a medal. They don’t do it for notoriety. You know, they don’t do it for the benefits. They do it because that’s what needs done at the time. They do it for the man to their left and their right. That’s heroism.”
Kachmar was taken to Camp Fallujah for initial treatment, then flown to Balad, Iraq, and on to Landstuhl, Germany. Five days after receiving treatment in Landstuhl, Kachmar was flown to Bethesda Naval Medical Center, Md., where he spent the next year recovering from his injuries.
Kachmar is now stationed with the Wounded Warrior Regiment in Quantico, Va., where his responsibilities include traveling the country to speak with other wounded Marines about their decisions to stay or get out of the Marine Corps. He also offers advice on activities they can get involved in during their recovery.
Kachmar has decided, for now, to continue in the Marine Corps. He believes in the Marine Corps and its mission.
“I will always be faithful to fight the battle,” Kachmar said. “Now that I’m wounded, I can’t fight, but I can still be faithful to the Marine Corp and I can still be faithful to other Marines who were wounded in combat.”
(Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in the series, Wounded Warrior Diaries. Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg is assigned to the New Media Directorate of the Defense Media Activity).