Wounded Warrior Shows True Grit To Stay In The Fight
(March 18, 2011)
|CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (MCN - March 14, 2011) — In September
2001, Than Naing was cooking hamburgers in a fast-food
restaurant in New York City and taking prerequisite classes
part-time at the City College of New York in hopes of
pursuing an engineering degree.|
A 25-year-old recent immigrant from Burma, Naing had
no knowledge of the Marine Corps and little interest
in current world events. He could not identify Iraq
or Afghanistan on a map.
That all changed
“Many people in America don't
appreciate democracy,” said Naing. “In Burma, there
is no freedom of speech. If you say something bad
about the generals that run the country, they will
put you in prison for many years. That is why I
joined the Marine Corps after 9/11. I was so happy
to have the chance to live in a democracy, and I
wanted to defend it. I saw the people dying in the
Twin Towers. I felt like I had to give something
back, because America gave me such a good life.”
USMC Sgt. Than Naing, an infantryman stationed with Wounded Warrior Battalion East in Camp Lejeune, N.C., tours the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor here Sept. 10,
2010. Naing recently survived a gunshot wound to the chest during his tour in Afghanistan as a squad leader with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, earning his second Purple Heart in four years.
Although Naing went to the nearby Marine Corps recruiting
station to enlist just a week after 9/11, it took him more
than two years of studying English as a Second Language
while living and working in New York City to get his English
fluency to a degree of proficiency to enable him to pass the
Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.|
the test and headed to Parris Island, S.C. for boot camp in
“I didn't know a lot about the U.S
military, but my friend told me that the Marine Corps was
the best (branch of service). And I wanted to be one of the
best,” said Naing.
After graduating from recruit
training, Pvt. 1st Class Naing was assigned to Company C,
1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, in
Within a year he found himself walking
the streets of Fallujah as a rifleman. During this tour, he
learned from friends back in the States that his mother had
passed away in Burma during his second month in Iraq.
However, Naing opted not tell his command, “Because they
would want me to go home, and I did not want to leave my
fellow Marines in combat, and there was nothing I could do
for my family at that time.”
Naing has not gone back
to Burma since.
In 2006 he went back to Iraq for a
second tour with 1/6, this time in Ramadi.
several months of hard fighting during the height of the
insurgency, Naing was shot in the left shoulder during a
firefight Oct. 19, 2006. After being stabilized at the U.S.
military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, he was transported
to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. While
at Bethesda, Naing pinned on corporal meritoriously.
Naing arrived back at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in
January 2007 and was assigned to the Injured Support Unit,
Wounded Warrior Barracks. During his 18 months of recovery
with Wounded Warriors, Naing saw the organization evolve
into a full-fledged Marine Corps unit, which was designated
Wounded Warrior Battalion East.
He used his time
constructively, mentoring junior Marines, continuing his
university education and completing the process of applying
for U.S. citizenship, which he eventually earned in May
“When I got my U.S. citizenship, I felt like a
new man again on the earth,” said Naing.
spirit of determination was quickly noted by the Injured
Support Unit staff, and he was quickly given leadership
responsibilities and encouraged to actively engage his
fellow Marines to ensure they stayed on the right track to
recovery and transition. He was awarded NCO of the quarter
in the summer of 2008.
“I was impressed by his
perseverance to get back on full duty, to reenlist, and
truly get back into the fight,” said Sgt. Maj. Joel Collins,
who served as the battalion sergeant major from 2008 to
“Even after he was placed back on full duty,
he was still not in fighting shape,” explained Collins. “A
collective effort from the staff, his fellow wounded
warriors, and mostly from his own intestinal fortitude was
he able to get back into shape to reenlist and get back to
Fleet Marine Forces.... Naing is not afraid of a little heat.
He is countable.”
With gritty determination, Naing
rehabilitated his shoulder through extensive physical
therapy, regular workouts in the gym with his buddies, and
countless hours in the base pool. He pinned on the rank of
sergeant in January 2009 and achieved his goal of returning
to the operational forces that spring.
“I just wanted
to get back to the Fleet and deploy again,” said Naing. “I
joined the Marine Corps to be an infantryman and to go to
combat. In (my previous tour), one of my best friends was
killed by an IED. I wanted to go back to Iraq and fight in
After passing his physical fitness test
with a first class score, Naing, now 32 years old was
assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion 6th Marine Regiment as
a squad leader.
Within a year, Naing found himself in
the mountains of Afghanistan, leading his squad in almost
daily combat in the summer heat in Marjah City, Helmand
On June 13, 2010, Naing was checking the
perimeter security around a vehicle checkpoint which his
squad had set up near Marjah. A firefight broke out, and an
Afghanistan National Army soldier in Naing's squad was
killed almost instantly by enemy fire. Then a Marine was hit
in the arm. While directing his squad's fire and calling in
a situation report, Naing was shot in the chest by a Taliban
fighter with a machine gun.
Although he was in and
out of consciousness from loss of blood, Naing continued to
call in reports to his platoon sergeant while still under
fire. His corpsman dragged Naing into a ditch to patch up
his wounds, and he was evacuated by helicopter in critical
condition to a hospital at Camp Leatherneck.
can remember is that I was screaming in the helicopter,
because it was so painful,” said Naing.
under fire, Naing received the Navy and Marine Corps
Achievement medal with Combat “V.”
He was again
evacuated to Bethesda. He arrived back at Camp Lejeune in
September 2010 for his second tour with Wounded Warrior
“It's definitely positive to see
someone like him being an inspiration to the other guys,
going through and fighting his own battles and keeping his
attitude so positive all the time. He inspires others. He
literally keeps the morale up for especially the junior
Marines in the company,” said Sgt. Nathaniel Harris, a
Wounded Warrior who knew Naing when they served together at
1/6 in 2005. They reconnected at Company A, where Harris has
been a patient here since February 2010, after being
severely wounded in Afghanistan.
Once again, Naing
is pushing his own limits in the gym and at the pool,
determined to return to full duty and deploy overseas for
the fourth time.
“In my mind, I keep thinking about
being a warrior. I think tactically; that's how I am. The
Marine Corps is perfect for me. I'm not a paperwork kind of
guy. I just want to get back into the fight.”
has his druthers, Naing will go to university full-time
under the Meritorious Enlisted Commissioning Program and
become a Marine Corps infantry officer. He would be the
first officer candidate in recent Marine Corps history to
have two purple hearts upon commissioning.
that leadership begins with your example for others to
follow. The exceptional example of Sgt Naing is extremely
rare and very inspiring,” said Capt. Dennis Nichols, whose
command of Company A, Wounded Warrior Battalion East, has
spanned both of Naing's tours here.
“He is a living
example of tenacity and determination that he has exhibited
now on two separate occasions both being very challenging
and often times grueling,” said Nichols. “I feel that he is
a prime example and will do extremely well as an officer.”
Wounded Warrior Battalion East is headquartered here
with Companies A and B, which care for about 200 wounded,
ill and injured Marines.
The battalion also
supervises several hundred Wounded Warriors at seven
subordinate detachments at hospitals throughout the country
from the National Capitol Region to San Antonio, Texas.
The stated mission of Wounded Warrior Battalion East is
taking care of wounded, ill and injured Marines and their
families. With a full-time staff of more than 200 Marines,
Sailors and civilian professionals, battalion staff ensures
the care of our Wounded Warriors throughout the recovery and
Article and photo by USMC Maj. Paul Greenberg|
Wounded Warrior Battalion-East
Marine Corps News
Comment on this article