Twice-injured sergeant among those honored by Wounded Warrior Regiment
QUANTICO, Va. — Sgt. Than Naing’s Afghanistan deployment in 2010 ended much like the Iraq deployment that preceded it, with the Marine medevaced out of the country and nursing battle wounds.
Machine gun fire from an ambush at a vehicle checkpoint in Marjah left him with serious internal injuries. He faced a long recovery back in the States and another assignment to Wounded Warrior Battalion East.
His response to the adversity has not gone unnoticed.
Naing was among those honored Tuesday during an awards ceremony that marked the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment’s fifth birthday. Naing received the Wounded Warrior Regiment’s Wounded, Ill or Injured Service Member Award for his “perseverance and drive.”
“We have Marines out there who still have that spirit, still have that fire in their eye” that they had when they stood on the yellow footprints at boot camp, said Lt. Col. Michael Corrado, the unit’s executive officer. But in some cases, they must learn to take that spark and use it in a different way.
Naing, a Burmese immigrant, came to the United States in 1997 and tried to enlist in the Marine Corps immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. It took years of improving his English fluency before could pass the test, but he eventually became an infantryman and deployed to Iraq in 2005. He returned to Iraq in 2006 and was in Ramadi when he was shot in the shoulder by a sniper.
After several months of healing in the Wounded Warriors Battalion, he was assigned to Marine Special Operations Advisor Group and then to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. He was with that regiment in Afghanistan when he was injured a second time.
“I love being in the infantry,” Naing said Tuesday. “That’s my motivation.”
Though his latest injuries are more severe, Naing hopes he can get back to the infantry. After spending time recovering at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., he transferred to Camp Lejeune. His mission now is to get better, and while his time is often devoted to medical appointments, he has also gotten involved in swimming and archery. He recently won a bronze medal in archery in the Warrior Games trials and will compete in archery and swimming in the upcoming Warrior Games.
He also graduated from Coastal Carolina Community College and is attending Campbell University for a degree in IT management.
Naing said his hard work since his injuries is his way of honoring Pfc. Shelby J. Feniello, who was killed in Iraq only days before Naing was injured the first time.
Rod Smith, whose son was Naing’s platoon commander in Afghanistan, attended the ceremony as a guest of Naing, whom he called an extraordinary man and Marine.
“I wish we had more of him,” Smith said.
Staff Sgt. Ryan A. Harris, a section leader, platoon sergeant and unit transition coordinator with Wounded Warrior Battalion West, Detachment Twentynine Palms, was given the Wounded Warrior Regiment Leadership Award on Tuesday.
Harris helps coordinate the military part of the Marines’ recovery, and said working with wounded warriors is “the best and worst job in the Marine Corps.”
Shawn Cheney, a retired Marine, was given the Wounded Warrior Regiment Civilian of the Year award. As the deputy officer in charge of the Wounded Warrior Detachment at Naval Medical Center San Diego, Cheney said he has been rewarded over the years by seeing Marines succeed.
Like Naing and Harris, he said he was very surprised to hear he was getting an award.
“I do it because I love it, and for no other reason,” he said.