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An Injured Marine Needs Your Help...

I have known LCpl Michael P. Jernigan for around 3 years. I consider him a very close friend, and I can't think of a finer young man.

Like many of us, Septemper 11th changed Mike forever. But, while we exercised our patriotism by wearing American flag T-shirts, Mike made a much larger commitment.

On October 18, 2002, and on his 24th birthday, Mike joined the Marine Corp, and thus followed in his family's tradition.

On March 2, 2004, Mike arrived in Iraq as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. We couldn't have been prouder of him for doing something he truely believed in.

Sadly, on August 22, 2004, Mike sustained life-threatening injuries, while on patrol in Mahmudiyah, Iraq, when an IED (Improvised Explosive Devise) was remotely detonated as Mike's Humvee passed by. The blast destroyed both of his eyes, and left him with permanent damage to his hand and leg.

While the "Michael Moores" of the world are out trying to tear down this country, brave Soldiers & Marines like LCpl Jernigan are risking their lives to defend our way of life.

I would encourage you to read the article printed below and, if possible, send a donation to help he and his family. No donation is too small, and it is the least we can do for someone who has given so much. Donation info is listed at the bottom of this page.



LCpl Michael P. Jernigan Boot Camp Photo.


The following is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the St. Petersburg Times: "A Fighting Chance", by Tom Zucco, and is Copyright Times Publishing Co. Nov 28, 2004.

Mike Jernigan was one of those few, good men the Marines are looking for. Tall, lean, eager - and adrift. A recruiter's dream. He had a decent job as a bartender at the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa, dozens of friends at home in St. Petersburg, and his own locker in the back room of one of his favorite hangouts, Central Cigars. But he also had Rebekah Farmer, a childhood sweetheart he was planning to marry. Mixing margaritas, chatting with tourists and shooting pool in the back room at the cigar store began to look less and less attractive as a career path.

So Mike found his way to the Marines. To most recruits who pass through the Entrance Processing Station on W Waters Avenue in Tampa, the act of being sworn into the military is a five-minute formality. They show up in shorts, polo shirts and flip-flops, and say their goodbyes in the parking lot.

When Mike Jernigan arrived on Oct. 18, 2002, to be inducted, he wore a blue three-piece suit and a paisley tie. He also had his mother, stepfather, girlfriend, brother and about a half-dozen other family members and friends with him. Mike was allowed to be sworn in by his father, Michael V. Jernigan, a retired Army major who had flown in from England for the occasion. At one point in the ceremony, Mike's dad stopped and spoke about Mike's late grandfather, Marine Col. Theodore J. Willis. About how Grimps was up in heaven, and would be watching out for Mike. Even a hardened Marine Corps sergeant assigned to observe the proceedings, a veteran of countless swearing-in ceremonies, found a lump forming in his throat. It was Mike's 24th birthday.

"Looking back now," said Tracey Willis, Mike's mom, "I'm so glad we did that." After boot camp, advanced training and stops in Okinawa and Camp Lejeune, Mike arrived in Iraq on March 2 of this year.

The situation was not as bad as the news reports, he said during his frequent calls home. "I think he didn't want us to worry," said his mother. But there was no way around that. The enemy in Iraq doesn't wear a uniform. Death is crouching behind a building or buried in the road. "And the insurgents are scaring the local population into not talking to us - not helping us," Mike would say later. "If they do talk, they (insurgents) come and kill them."

Life in Iraq, Mike said, was 90 percent boredom, 7 percent excitement, and 3 percent "being scared out of your mind." And then Mike showed up in Time magazine. A May 10 article, "Life on the Front Lines," pictured several Marines responding to an ambush in Fallujah. The faces were difficult to identify, but Tracey Willis knew one of the Marines was her son. His family bought nearly 20 copies. "Here's a St. Pete boy doing what he's supposed to be doing over there," Tracey told a St. Petersburg Times reporter a few days later.


Photo from the May 10 issue of Time magazine,
featuring LCpl Jernigan, as indicated by the "arrow"

About 1:50 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 22, a Humvee carrying five Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment was part of a security patrol on the outskirts of Mahmudiyah, a small town along the central supply route from Baghdad to Kuwait. One of the Marines was an observer in an exposed part of the vehicle. He had been there for several hours.

"Why don't you come down," Mike said, "and I'll take your place." A short time later, an improvised explosive device, or IED, later determined to be two 155 mm artillery shells, was detonated as Mike's Humvee passed by.

Flak vests and Kevlar helmets effectively protect a service member's head, chest and abdomen. But IEDs send shrapnel and dirt upward, and drive pieces of metal past the sides of the helmet. Or through the eyes and into the brain.

Of the five Marines in Mike's Humvee, three were wounded. Mike and Cpl. Christopher Belchik, 30, of Illinois were by far the most seriously hurt. Mike had an obvious head injury, but of immediate concern was his left leg, where his femoral artery had been severed. He was bleeding to death.

When the patrol reached the shattered Humvee, Mike was thought to be dead. But a Navy medic assigned to the group found a pulse and got him on a helicopter to the 31st Combat Support Hospital about 30 miles away in Baghdad.

On a stretcher nearby, Chris Belchik was also clinging to life. In an e-mail to family members a week before the ambush, he wrote that his main concern was what to get his wife for her birthday. Like Mike, he had been married just over a year. Chris Belchik died that morning. Meanwhile, Mike Jernigan remained in a coma, his breathing controlled by a respirator.

During World War II, Korea or Vietnam, a soldier with Mike's catastrophic injuries likely would have died on the battlefield. But this time, in this war, he had a fighting chance. The ratio of wounded solders to killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom is about 7.5 to 1 - higher than in any other major war and a testament to the advances of battlefield medicine, body armor and evacuation efforts. But with that high survival rate comes a price. It's paid in the increasing number of soldiers living with amputated limbs, damaged brains and disfigurement they never imagined.

On Oct. 21, a week after Mike was discharged from Haley and allowed to go home, his hospital buddy Jonathan Gadsden had lapsed into a coma after a massive infection. Mike, Bekah and Bob Campbell, Mike's stepdad, drove to the hospital and sat with Jonathan and his family most of the night. The next day, Jonathan died.

By Thanksgiving, the number of American military personnel wounded in Iraq had topped 9,000. At least 60 percent of the injuries were blast-related. "It's a new challenge for us," said Dr. Steven Scott, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation services at Haley. "We're seeing worse problems than we've ever seen."

Scott said it's rare to find a soldier who has survived a blast so severe it destroyed both his eyes. "But Mike will be a success," Scott said, "and a lot of that has to do with his attitude, his motivation, and the support of his wife and family."

Tracey Willis says she is "amazed how good he looks considering what happened. And it's so good that he's alive. That's really and truly the biggest thing. "And that he's still Mike."


Michael and his wife Bekah taken in October, 2004.

Indeed, several times, when friends have asked Mike if his hearing has become more sensitive, he leans forward and asks, "What'd you say?" Invariably, the person starts to repeat the question. And a grin sneaks across Mike's face.

"They say I'll eventually have 90 percent use of my hand," he says. And when he gets better, he wants to return to college and get a degree in international relations. Maybe he'll teach. Be a motivational speaker. Or go into politics.

On Nov. 2, with his mother there to enter his choices, Mike voted in the presidential election. "Voted for W," he says proudly. "Who else?"

Once everything settles down, Mike and Bekah also want to start a family. The question is, do they have one child? Two? Three?

CATASTROPHIC WAR INJURIES

A look at injuries suffered by Marine Lance Cpl. Mike Jernigan after the Humvee he was riding in was hit by artillery shells Aug. 22 near the town of Mahmoudiya, Iraq.

Right hand badly injured.

Left knee mangled.

Left femoral artery severed.

Lower part of forehead shattered.

Both eyes destroyed.

A CHRONICLE OF TREATMENT

Aug. 22-26: 31st Combat Support Hospital, Baghdad, Iraq. Femoral artery stabilized. Left knee cap and right hand stabilized. Removed what remained of his eyes. Underwent a craniotomy - the removal of a section of bone from the skull to expose the brain. Bone fragments removed.

Aug. 26-28: Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany. Head, knee and hand wounds stabilized for return to United States.

Aug. 28-Sept. 30: National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md. Removed remainder of bone fragments. Part of Humvee windshield also removed. Titanium plate inserted in left cheek to permanently hold it in place.

Sept. 30-Oct. 15: James A. Haley VA Medical Center, Tampa. Physical and occupational therapy. Began out-patient treatment Oct. 16.

End of November: Will return to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for prosthetic eyes.

Early 2005: Will return to Bethesda again for forehead reconstruction.

lf you would like to make a donation to the Jernigan family
to help with Michael's recovery, please send it to:

BB&T Bank (Northeast Branch)
182 37th Avenue North
St. Petersburg, FL 33714
ATTN: Helen Burg

Make checks payable to: LCpl Michael Jernigan-Iraq Marine Fund.

To read the St. Petersburg Times article "A Fighting Chance" in its entirety (along with a photo gallery) click here.

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