FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — At first glance, it looks like they’re dressed for a cookout: The men are wearing polo shirts and ball caps as they stand in a horseshoe, talking and laughing as they wait.
The rifles and shell casings on a nearby table suggest something else.
“We’re doing what we love and putting a weapon back in a warrior’s hand,” said Lt. Col. Shane Tomko, commanding officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
Combat Marine Outdoors, a nonprofit organization, brought Marines from the Wounded Warrior Regiment back into their comfort zone Monday at one of the shooting ranges at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
“It gets them back to an environment they’re familiar with,” said Executive Director Rusty Hicks.
The men, who were joined by members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, came together for a morning of target shooting and camaraderie that capped off a week of events in the Washington metropolitan area.
They also gathered to recognize two of their own in an impromptu awards ceremony after the last of the ammunition had been fired.
Tomko said the Marines in the regiment and the special agents constantly had to make difficult decisions, providing them with common ground.
“You know that each time takes away pieces of our heart, our naïveté,” he said. “You guys are hooking and jabbing every corner of the way.”
Sgt. Ivan Sears of San Antonio received his meritorious promotion warrant to sergeant.
Sears, who lost both legs in 2010 after stepping on an improvised explosive device during a patrol in Afghanistan, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to spend time among friends.
Since his injury, Sears has competed as a wheelchair racer, and has won gold and silver at the Warrior Games.
“This is what I got dealt, and I had to work with it and do what I can, so I did,” he said. “I’m just going to roll with it—no pun intended.”
DEA Special Agent Joseph Piersante of Stafford County, who was rendered permanently blind during a drug operation in Afghanistan in 2011, received a Certificate of Commendation from Tomko for his continued contributions.
“You have had a direct and significant impact,” Tomko said, “and you have demonstrated that [wounded warriors] are truly still in the fight.”
Piersante said that the days spent with Combat Marine Outdoors had been a great time, and echoed that time has provided him the “never die, never quit attitude” he needs to move forward with his life.
Tomko said that being in the presence of the men was a humbling experience, and that assisting them in reaching their peak condition mentally, physically and spiritually was his priority.
“These are all basic guys who threw it all on the line,” he said. “Now, there are a million little pieces in putting themselves back together.”
Still, Tomko said, he could see their smiles, and their motivation.
Hicks said it’s necessary that the men realize they can still perform a lot of their pre-injury activities.
“We’re getting them to do something they used to enjoy,” he said. “And they enjoy it now more than ever.”