Back to work: hand amputee deploys to set example for wounded warriors
by Cpl. Benjamin Crilly RCT-8
PATROL BASE FIRES, Helmand province, Afghanistan - “The word came out that noncommissioned officers were needed as combat replacements,” said combat replacement for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Sgt. Ricardo Ramirez. “Guys with experience who wanted to help out our brothers in Sangin.”
Ramirez, a veteran of Iraq, fit the description, answered the call and volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan. His previous combat experience shows right off the bat, and is one of the first things people notice about the warrior.
He only has one hand.
In February of 2006, Ramirez was wounded in action while serving in Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and two years later became the first hand-amputee to re-enlist in the Marines Corps. Since then he has served as an urban warfare instructor to train other Marines, attended a pre-sniper course to pursue a life goal, and his present service demonstrates a continued refusal to leave his infantry roots. The example has been set for other wounded warriors: fight for it and you’ll get it.
“When I first got to 1st Platoon I happened to be sitting in the (combat operation center) when I heard Marines on post,” recalled Ramirez. “It came over the radio ‘Hey we just got our combat replacements and damn! One of them is missing a hand’ and then all you hear is ‘What? Are you serious?’”
The Commandant of the Marine Corps annulled would-be skeptics, of his ability to return to the battlefield, by granting Ramirez’s requests to re-enlist and ordered him to full-duty status.
“A man or a Marine should not be measured by how they look, what they are missing or what they don’t have,” said Ramirez, from Quebrallas, Puerto Rico. “A Marine should be measured by experience, their work ethic, how they carry themselves and, of course how they lead their Marines. That is what everyone should be looking at.
“I am a Marine and have been a Marine for a long time,” said Ramirez, who has served in the Marine Corps for 10 years. “If you were to ask me if I can lead Marines in combat: I will absolutely be able to despite the loss of my hand.”
Ramirez was unable to deploy with his original unit, 3/5, because his prosthetic claws were stolen from his gear. Third Bn., 5th Marine Regiment was deployed to the district of Sangin, Afghanistan from October, 2010 to April, 2011 and was replaced by 1/5.
When he found out that he would be able to be a combat replacement for a sister battalion, 1/5, he jumped at the chance. Despite his full recovery and range of abilities as a hand amputee, people had reservations, Ramirez had his own. Ramirez was concerned his deployment as a combat replacement would restrict him to a large base with the duties of permanent sergeant of the guard.
“Like I told the commanders, I have practiced everything and anything possible that a Marine might be called on to do on the battlefield,” said Ramirez. “People may think of something that they believe I can’t do or would be impossible. I have figured how to do everything, whether it is tightening a tourniquet or conducting reload drills.”
The screws in his rifle grip, strategically placed to allow him to use his prosthetic claw in any situation, are just one testament to Ramirez’s determination so see combat. Where most people can simply adjust their hand placement, Ramirez has installed screws on either side of the rifle attachment to enable him to apply pressure and adjust the angle at which he steadies his weapon. It paid off when he was assigned to 1st Platoon.
“I am all about putting the best team on the field,” said 1st Lt. Charles Poulton, the platoon commander for Ramirez’s unit. “When I first heard about the combat replacement, I wanted him because anyone who has one hand and has been fighting to get over here to the fight, wants to be here.
“I knew I wasn’t going to just put him on the shelf,” said Poulton. “I was going to give him his chance, which he deserves, for what he did to get here. I am putting him in play.”
Ramirez, with a desire to pave the way for all wounded warriors, got his chance and took full advantage of it.
The amputee goes “outside the wire” multiple times a day on patrols; he strives to learn all he can about the area he operates in. He was made the platoon guide after joining 1st Platoon and was later pulled by the company to be a section leader for Bravo Company’s Mobile Assault Platoon.
“My being outside the wire and on patrol every single day is really, really, really important because the voice of a successful deployment will spread,” said Ramirez. “Handicap and amputee Marines will see that this is only a limitation if they make it a limitation.”
Ramirez’s future goals in the Marine Corps are to become a Marine Corps Scout Sniper and to serve as an “operator” in Marine Corps Special Operations Command. He still wants to influence others who have been wounded in action to pursue their fullest potential, even after he gets out of the Marine Corps.
Editor’s note: 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is a subordinate unit of Regimental Combat Team 8 is currently assigned to 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.