Combat veteran shares recovery success story with Okinawa Marines
CAMP KINSER, OKINAWA, Japan -- In 2006, Lt. Col. Justin Constantine was injured during a routine combat patrol while deployed to Iraq. An enemy sniper fired upon Constantine and his Marines, and before he could take cover a round hit the back of his head, exiting through his jaw.
Constantine, a now retired veteran and inspirational speaker, was thought to be dead on the battlefield, but the few inches between where the bullet entered behind his ear and his brain saved his life.
Constantine visited the Camp Kinser Theater Dec. 4 to talk to Marines about his experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and emotional wellness in the Marine Corps.
After over 20 surgeries and weeks in a coma, Constantine found himself in battle once again with survivor’s guilt, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD. That recovery taught him many lessons which he now shares with the world.
“It’s extremely important to share my story because sometimes society is not comfortable discussing their problems,” said Constantine, from Arlington, Virginia. “I figured coming out as a retired lieutenant colonel who’s been in combat, I can create an environment for Marines where they are more comfortable talking about it.”
As Constantine shared his experience, he also urged Marines to seek programs available across the military, such as the Behavioral Health Community Counseling Program.
“We gathered Marines from different bases to talk about what life was like after I was nearly killed,” said Constantine. “I came to talk about observations I’ve made from post-traumatic stress to hopefully plant some seeds in the minds of some Marines who may also be suffering with the same things I did.”
Constantine shared his story to as many Marines as possible across Okinawa. His speeches left a profound mark on many young Marines who were learning to adapt, not only to combat stress, but life in the Marine Corps in general.
“This presentation made me realize how much help is actually out there, and the amount of people out there willing to help individuals get through tough situations,” said Lance Cpl. Devin A. Vaira, a ground radio operator with Headquarters Regiment, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, from Saint Joseph, Illinois. “If other people have the chance to come out and listen to Justin Constantine, they should definitely take the opportunity to do so.”
The presentation appealed to members of all ranks, demonstrating the importance of Constantine’s message.
“It’s amazing how things have progressed, and it makes people with adversity rethink quitting when they see all these success stories,” said Chief Warrant Officer Edwin C. Bates, the executive officer for Food Service Company, Headquarters Regiment, from Alexandra, Louisiana. “In 2006, coming back from Iraq, we had nobody to talk to, but as recent as my deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, we had counselors to take care of us on arrival.”
As he concluded his presentation, Constantine identified three lessons he wanted his audience to remember.
“It’s okay to ask for help. Many people see it as a sign of weakness, but I see it as a sign of strength; it takes true courage to ask for help,” said Constantine. “Secondly, teamwork is critical for success, and we must always look out for those around us.”
The third lesson was presented with examples of the details during his recovery, and how over time he found strength in himself he never knew he had.
“Finally, you’re stronger than what you think you are,” said Constantine. “At first I didn’t think I was strong enough to endure the recovery, but I remembered and advise you to never, never, never give up.”
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