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The Wreck of My Life

Travis MitchellTravis Mitchell is from Burkburnett, Texas. Re served in the USMC from 2006-2009 as Combat Engineer 1371 (9TR ESB) before being medically separated. Travis used the GI Bill® from 2010-2013 to earn over 100 college credits. Re also graduated from the Police Academy in 2012 at Pasco Hernando Community College, FL. Travis moved to North Carolina in 2017 and has been a full-time student at CFCC since 2021, working towards his Associate’s in Substance Abuse Counseling and planning to go to UNCW for his Bachelor’s degree. He plans to work with Vets who struggle with Substance Abuse.

April 13th, 2007 was a clear and warm North Carolina day. The Marines of 8th ESB began to gather right outside the barracks to listen to our company Commander and to hopefully be cut loose for the weekend. Not old enough to drink but old enough to fight for my country, it’s those next words out of my First Sergeant that gets this all going for me. The First Sergeant started by saying “Men we have trained hard, and I am pleased to go to war with you guys, “Men, our number has been called and we ship out to Iraq in 8 days, so enjoy this weekend for it might be the last one we get.” We devil dogs cheer with rage as if a touchdown was scored for we all were anxious to put our training to the test. My thoughts were divided with fear and adrenaline for there was a good chance I may not come back home. I chose to be a Combat Engineer, and in that profession, you’re the first in and the last out.

This weekend I got invited to a party by some ECU college girls. I must say I was a bit nervous, so I asked if I could bring a friend along, and they said that would be fine. Being from Texas and not knowing this area, I had to go to the computer lab and get directions from Camp Lejeune to Greenville. It was definitely doable, just under 3 hours apart. Right after the cheers died off, the First Sergeant cut us loose; my friend Ryan and I ran to our barracks, we grabbed our book bags of clothes and made our way to where our bikes were parked. Ryan had a bike he called Liberty; She was a beautiful Red, White, and Blue CBR 600, the same size engine as my bike, and really the only big difference between the bikes is mine had some aftermarket things put on to improve acceleration and top speed. Just out of the shop my beautiful 2006 Yamaha R6, which I called Black Widow for its striking similarities in being black with pinstripe blood red around the wheels and fenders.

Been without her for about a month to this point because I had a minor accident where an SUV forced me off the road and I had to get new footpegs and scratches fixed, but now she was ready to see the open road again. As we start them up and put our helmets on Ryan yells over I bet you $500 bucks I can beat you there, I said you’re on.

We for the most part did the speed limit until our back tires crossed the gates of the base, then it was nothing under 100mph for the next 2 hours. I truly enjoyed the old winding country roads, and it might be hard to believe going that fast, but my eyes absorbed every inch of scenery. The race was pretty even for the first hour and a half, but as I passed a semi-truck, Ryan got stuck behind it, and with an ever flow of traffic on the other side of the road I was able to pull away.

When Ryan pulled into the apartment complex, I had already parked and had my helmet off sitting at the edge of the stairway with a big smile on my face, and rubbing my fingers together for the sign of money he waves his glossy red helmet back and forth as if he was saying no.

Ryan quickly jumped off his bike and took his helmet off to say that wasn’t fair with the rasp of jealousy under his breath. We laughed, and I said better luck next time. We had a blast with the college girls that weekend, and honestly, I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to be sent off to war than that farewell weekend we had.

Mid-day on the 15th of April we said our goodbyes and thanked the college girls for such a great time. They said, “Be careful and stay safe on your deployment.” Ryan and I were on the bikes putting our gloves on when he looked over at me and said double or nothing, I said done. We raced out of the apartment complex, both of us going way faster than we did just two days prior. My heart was pounding so hard because we were flying going upwards of 150mph, and once again I was pulling away from Ryan. I could barely see Ryan in my side mirrors when all of a sudden I saw blue flashing lights. Not knowing if they were after me or Ryan, I leaned even harder on the throttle, until I saw a sharp curve ahead. With not enough time to use my brakes, I just released the throttle in hopes of slowing down enough to make the sharp curve. I can still smell the burnt flesh as I leaned the bike so far over that my left knee was touching the pavement. To my surprise making this curve, I whipped the bike up so fast that I needed to balance it out, but in doing so it put me in a death wobble throwing my body over the handlebars. I remember praying to GOD at that moment for I knew I would see him in a few seconds hoping he heard my profound love for him. The sound of bones breaking as my back was being engraved into this ditch, with my bike flying past my face like a seeking missile, and my body skipping off that ditch like a hard thrown rock at a lake it was tossed in the air 25 feet to be exact later told by spectators who stopped to try and help.

To my surprise, as my body lay on this grassy clearing I felt every bone break 8 to be exact every twist as both ACLs were torn, and looking up through my tinted cracked helmet visor at the white puffy clouds in agony I saw the sun shining through them as if GOD was saying you’re in my hands. I lay there as chaos was surrounding me, voices I’d never heard before women crying. There had to be 20- plus people around my ever-lifeless body. It wasn’t until the helicopter landed on the grassy clearing that my soul seemed to be leaving this earth. With no memory of the helicopter ride to the hospital, I did awaken in the ER where they cut my clothes off and hooked me to all these different things to then hear the doctor say let’s get him into surgery.

My body lay still on the white hospital bed where I couldn’t move a muscle. I learned from the nurse I had broken my pelvis in 3 places, my back in 3 places, and my tailbone. I also had torn my ACL in both legs and had a traumatic brain injury. She explained they did knee surgery and were going to do pelvic surgery in the coming days. Weeks passed before getting 2 screws and a plate in my pelvis. Roughly 14 days after the accident the doctor came into my room and said they were going to teach me how to self-catheterize the next day for my nerves have not come back. I asked what that meant, and he said you will have to wear a bag on the side of your leg for the rest of your life for you won’t be able to pee on your own or have children for sex was out of the question. My eyes began to cry as his voice began to fade because my 19-year-old self was given the news that I would never be the one thing I most wanted to be in this life, a father.

That night I prayed to GOD with tears streaming down my face. I started by saying I was thankful for the second chance at life, but as the hours rolled on I found myself pleading for the chance to be a father. He must have heard me because after 4 hours of prayer, and as soon as I said amen the worst pain I have ever felt came over me. My skin turned yellow right before my eyes, and my gut twisted with sharp pain. I yelled for the nurse who came running into my room saying what was wrong, what was wrong I told her I need to pee. As she irritates me, lifting my catheter bag up, explaining to me that it’s half full and that if I needed to pee it would go in the bag. I turned to her and said take it out or I will. She said ok, ok calm down, she pulled the tube out and as soon as she did my skin began to turn normal my pain seceded as my member began to flop uncontrollably like a water sprinkler all over her. I felt bad for her but at the same time so relieved, and as she raced to get a plastic container on it, I ended up filling 2 liters full. The doctor came in that morning saying I have great news. We don’t need to teach you how to catheterize yourself anymore, but from all, we collected in the containers you were about 8 ounces away from blowing your bladder walls which would have been very bad. At that moment I knew the power of prayer and that our GOD is such a good GOD.

Somehow my phone was still functional when on the 19th day in the hospital and only 3 days after pelvic surgery the nurse walked into my room and said Mr. Mitchell you need to be out of our hospital by 5 p.m. I asked how I was supposed to do that, and she said I don’t know but the marine corps has stopped payments. So I called my staff sergeant who didn’t like me because I was the reason he got left behind from deployment and said ok I will figure it out. To my surprise at 5 p.m. I’m being loaded into his Jeep Wrangler 2 door for the bumpiest excruciating ride of my life.

Being released from the hospital without medication or proper transport you would think would be the worst it could get, but after 2 and a half hours in this Wrangler we pass the only hospital on base. I asked my SSGT where he was taking me. He told me that the hospital was too full and that we were going to the barracks. We get to the three-story building made in the 1950s with doors barely wide enough to fit a person through, let alone my wheelchair. I had to stand on my wobbly legs to work through the door on my way to the very compact metal bunk beds up against the wall of this (10×20) room. I was told that the duty gunny would be by to check on me every 4 hours. After 6 hours passed I found myself alone laying on this 3-inch mattress with no pain meds and my catheter still attached to me. I had to crawl to the toilet to empty my catheter bag. Finally, after 8 hours, the gunny checked on me, and my only recourse was to threaten him of calling 911 or getting me to a hospital for the pain I was in was unbearable. Re drives his duty van around and loads me up.

We got to the hospital where I sat in a wheelchair for 5 hours waiting for a room to open up. They put me in a room that had two empty beds one to my left, and one to my right. I’m finally being looked after, with morphine back in my arm. The nurse asked me how I was doing not knowing the story I would tell her. After hearing my story she asked if she could share it with her boss. I said that would be fine and to my surprise 30 minutes later the highest-ranking officer I’ve ever been around walked in. She was a 2-star general with the navy who was in charge of the naval hospital. She asked me if I would like to go home. I told her I wasn’t sure how that was possible. She said let me worry about that, would you like to do therapy here or at home. So obviously I said home, and within 2 hours I was being loaded into an ambulance taken to the airfield being loaded into a jet plane with two nurses, and two pilots who were so close I could reach out and touch them. The treatment I received after speaking with the general was nothing short of remarkable. I felt as though I was someone of importance. Even the way I was wrapped in this sheet and carried from the ambulance to the jet was a far cry from the experience I had with the ride in the Jeep.

I arrived at Sheppard Air Force Base in my hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas in just under 2 hours where I had an ambulance waiting for me, to take me to Realth South Rehabilitation inpatient facility. I stayed there for two weeks and then did outpatient therapy for roughly three months until my stepdad received a call from a colonel in the Marine Corps who was very rude to him asking how he authorized the Jet. My stepdad never was in the military or had any affiliation with the military; he had no clue who authorized the jet. The colonel who was very upset told him that I needed to be on a plane that week headed back to Lejeune or I would be (MIA) or missing in action.

I got back and the marine corps stuck me in a deployable unit where they forced me to be on the 3rd floor of the barracks even though I was on crutches now mind you there was no elevator so my arms were like Popeyes after 8 months of this. Every day for 8 months, I was forced to sit in this office from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on this hard plastic chair and do absolutely nothing. I would ask if I could answer phones or do paperwork but was told to just sit there. I began to feel the hate my beloved Marine Corps felt for me as though I was the stepchild of the organization. I once had so much respect and love for them but found myself torn for I wouldn’t have treated a wounded dog as badly as they treated me. After being forced to stand on my legs and run on treadmills after just three months of pelvic surgery, I found myself needing another pelvis surgery eight months after my accident.

At this point, I finally was given a caseworker who was appalled to find out I was not put in the Wounded Warriors but in a deployable unit. She immediately submitted the paperwork for me to be transferred out of the deployable unit. I finally get to the Wounded Warriors to find out my commander hated those Marines who didn’t get injured in Iraq, and so it pains me to say things didn’t improve much from where I was at. I’m not here trying to say that my accident wasn’t my fault, but the care I received from an organization that prides itself on never leaving a man behind, left me behind.

While in the Wounded Warriors, I had a friend from Florida who invited me to do the 4th of July with his family. Never been to Florida, so I thought it would be a nice getaway. I met my daughter’s mother while visiting Florida, and we named her Madison. She is the light of my life, and it takes me back sometimes to how life-changing that accident was. From how close I was to not being a father or how much my faith has grown in the process. My path to recovery caused much pain in my life, but without those experiences, I don’t believe I grow or potentially help someone else grow or survive. I am truly blessed to have GOD in my life; who keeps me going, and lets me reflect on the Wreck of My Life.

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