CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Retired Lt. Col. Justin Constantine, a Purple Heart recipient, spoke here to Marines Sept. 30, 2015, about his near-death experience and the struggles he has since overcome.
While taking part in a routine combat patrol during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Constantine was hit in the back of the head by an enemy sniper round. The round exited through his mouth, causing life threatening damage on Oct. 18, 2006.
According to Constantine, he would not be alive today if it wasn’t for George Grant, a Navy corpsman who was attached to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
“George Grant is an amazing young man,” said Constantine. “Even though my face was severely injured, he was able to perform rescue breathing and an emergency tracheotomy.”
Grant was not the only hero that day, according to Constantine. Jordan Buhler, who was a lance corporal serving as a motor vehicle operator at the time, drove Constantine to the nearest aid station.
“Based on Grant and Buhler’s training and who they are, I am alive today,” said Constantine. “They are compassionate and selfless people, and very committed to the greater good, and that’s what ‘Semper Fi’ means to me.”
Constantine said his journey of courage, injury and resilience demonstrates that people are stronger than they think.
“In my opinion, Constantine is not just your average person; he is someone special,” said Sgt. Brandon T. Wakefield, from Shepherd, Montana. “To come out of darkness after a tragic event and be able to talk to my Marines and myself about his story shows how strong he is.”
Since Constantine’s retirement in 2013, he has achieved honor graduate of his class at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. He was then appointed to a four-year congressionally-mandated task force for recovering warriors by the Secretary of Defense, and he is currently on the board of directors for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I do feel like I am extremely fortunate to be here and very lucky to have this type of recovery,” said Constantine, from Fairfax, Virginia. “For that reason, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to give back to my brothers and sisters.”
Constantine now speaks to both retired and active duty Marines about their struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and other challenging life events.
“You have Marines (who) have been in tragic situations, but they don’t know how to overcome it,” said Wakefield, a maintenance noncommissioned officer with Headquarters Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III MEF.
As a motivational speaker, Constantine directs other Marines toward help and provides leaders the guidance they need to aid their Marines, according to Wakefield.
“I hope they realize they are stronger then they think, and there is a community out there that wants to support them,” said Constantine.