Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, a 22 year-old Marine and wounded warrior
from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was honored at
the Iron Bowl, a yearly rivalry football game between Auburn
University and the University of Alabama on Nov. 26, 2011. Photo by
USMC Staff Sgt. Tracie Kessler
Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, a 22 year-old Marine and wounded warrior from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, peers out of the window of a deer blind during a hunting trip
on Nov. 27, 2011. Photo by USMC Staff Sgt. Tracie Kessler
AUBURN, AL (12/19/2011) - In the cold chill of a wet November
afternoon two hunters walk to a deer blind in a patch of woods just
outside of Montgomery.
With the sun dipping down over the
horizon and any good light quickly fading, muffled whispers focus on
the day's hunt, the ones that got away and how the deer must have
stayed home because of the weather.
Once the two make their
way up into the deer blind they peer out onto recently seeded fields
planted to attract deer and wait for that special opportunity when
the one thing that will make this ordinary fall day in Alabama
extraordinary, instantly transforming it into one of those larger
than life stories that people tell around camp fires while sipping
cold ones with their buddies.
But as this day remains
ordinary, it's more about one of the young hunters and the
extraordinary circumstances that brought him here.
ago on a rooftop in Marjah, Afghanistan, a day like any other, two
Marines were standing watch when they began to receive contact from
insurgents operating in the area. A grenade lands nearby, and in an
instant, life changes abruptly for Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, a
charming young man with an easy smile barely out of high school, and
hardly five months into his first deployment. A day like any other
made extraordinary by certain circumstances.
Two years later
after sustaining severe life-threatening injuries and countless days
of recovery, Carpenter finds himself walking down the soggy red clay
road that will take him to the spot where he might get lucky before
the day's end.
Capt. Lee Stuckey has the stereotypical
southern drawl of a native Alabamian, an easy going way and the kind
of hospitality typically found in the far reaches of the deep south.
He also has an overwhelming sense of community.
His sense of community seamlessly carries over to the
Marine Corps community to which he also belongs.
‘Marines taking care of Marines,' is something all Marines
learn from their first day in recruit training and carry
with them to their last day in the Corps and beyond. Stuckey
is no different. For him it's almost a mantra.
Marines from different paths are now walking down the same
one in that patch of woods in Alabama. That patch actually
belongs to Stuckey; and Carpenter, a wounded warrior, is
there as his guest receiving some time away from the Walter
Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
How these two Marines met is far more interesting than the
It all started with a football game.
There was already an effort to get Carpenter recognized
at the Iron Bowl, the annual in-state rivalry football game
between Auburn University and the University of Alabama,
before Stuckey became involved.
When the efforts of
those involved were met with some resistance, Stuckey, an
Auburn alumnus himself, stepped in to help get the ball
rolling that brought Carpenter to Alabama. What started off
as just a way to get a quick announcement during the game
quickly snowballed into an all-out effort to show support
for one of the Nation's wounded warriors.
Facebook messages saying this Marine and his family are
trying to go the Iron Bowl. I was just trying to get
tickets,” explained Stuckey. “I got tons of responses back
It wasn't until he spoke with the
president of Auburn University that the whole plan began to
take shape. “They got him tickets for everybody in his
family and president's suite passes [at the stadium]. The
pilot of the university's private plane saw the email
traffic and said he wanted to donate his personal time to
personally fly him in Auburn's [University's] private jet to
take him back to Walter Reed,” said Stuckey
really just me talking to one person and that person doing
Once word got out that Carpenter was
going to be honored at the game, it went viral. Standing
under a tent just outside the stadium with barely enough
room to breathe, mere seconds would pass between handshakes
as people virtually lined up just for their chance to meet
the lance corporal.
“When we walked into the
president's suite, there were senators, presidents of
colleges, very wealthy people everywhere and they were
pushed aside for him,” explained Stuckey.
waited in line – senators, everyone, waited in line for him
so they could shake his hand and thank him. His exact words
as he stood on the field in front of the stadium were ‘you
gotta be kidding me'.”
Previous to the game, Stuckey
and Carpenter had never met, and on only a few occasions
actually spoke to each other, but through Stuckey's efforts
and those of a dedicated community, Carpenter received the
heartfelt appreciation of a grateful community.
should come as little surprise then that some of those
members opened up more than just their community but their
hearts and homes as well.
One of those people who are
looking to help make a difference in the everyday lives of
those who need it most is Joe Whatley. Kicked back in a
rocking chair on his back porch, he's looking out over his
800 plus acres that his cabin sits on. A 40 acre lake greets
any newcomers as the dominant landmark directly behind his
Whatley speaks in the friendly methodical
nature that is indicative of someone raised in the South.
Now retired, he made a hard-working career in the trucking
business that provided him and his family a comfortable
A local landowner, he often opens his home
and his property so wounded vets like Carpenter can get some
time away from the hospital to enjoy a few days of hunting
Like Stuckey, Whatley believes in giving
back, and being able to reach out to a Marine like Carpenter
is simply one of the ways he enjoys doing it.
think this is a special place that God shares with me and my
family and I think the more I share it with deserving people
the better God is to me,” said Whatley, of Montgomery, Ala.
Whatley is no stranger to having veterans, or their
families for that matter, hunt on his land. Some have been
wounded warriors or fresh from deployment while others have
been families of deployed service members.
it comes to wounded warriors, there's a special feeling that
goes along with having them there. Less a feeling of
self-gratification than the simple joy he gets from seeing
“I like to see the smile on their face
when they come to the country. Most of them don't get to
appreciate things like this. Nature and the environment –
the natural beauty of things,” Whatley said.
can wake up and have a cup of coffee, watch the sun come up,
the fish jumping and the deer running. It does a lot to
restore your soul – restoring theirs and restoring mine,”
When Stuckey was looking for help
with Carpenter, he didn't have to look far to get it. Before
Auburn University opened its doors for Carpenter, Whatley
was one of the first people Stuckey called when he was
trying to find a way to get Carpenter into the game.
In the end, Whatley provided accommodations at his house
for Carpenter and his family and of course his pristine
hunting grounds. Whatley embraces the idea of helping
veterans because for years he'd been doing something similar
for other local groups who needed help.
There is more
to healing than what a person can get from sitting in a
hospital room or recovery center, believes Whatley. Being in
nature has a way of healing that nothing else can he
“Every once in a while, you just gotta
stop the world and catch your breath – and you can do that
from this rocking chair right here,” Whatley added.
Carpenter looks far older than his physical appearance would
have someone believe. His scarred and battered body makes
him look far beyond his years. Under the scars though is a
young Marine with the same interests of any 22 year-old. An
avid football fan, it was his love of the Auburn Tigers that
got him there in the first place.
“One hunting trip
and tickets to the game definitely would have been enough.
The Auburn staff and faculty stretched out an extra hand
when they didn't have to,” said Carpenter, from Columbia,
“A lot of extra things happened. I guess the
bare minimum wasn't enough. When it comes to wounded guys,
seeing that people really want to go the extra mile instead
of just the bare minimum is pretty motivating.”
Looking past the game and all that came with it, even the
deer hunt the next day, the one thing that made the weekend
complete was simply the support of the community for one
Marine, Carpenter explained.
He understands that
people don't have to go out of their way to help a complete
stranger, much less open up their homes, but it didn't go
“The good kind hearted people that opened
up their arms and their land, you know, they could keep it
to themselves because they own it and they can hunt on it
whenever they want to, but they really want to show their
support and help the wounded guys,” said Carpenter.
The perfect end to the weekend didn't come in the form of a
trophy buck unfortunately. However, it wasn't without some
surprise. Getting flown home in Auburn University's private
plane was far and away the most surprising part of the whole
“When I heard that, I thought I was on Candid
Camera or something. It was crazy to have someone call
offering their private jet for a night,” he said.
the last bit of light clung to the sky on a chilly fall day
in Alabama, and the two hunters walked out of the woods,
talk has turned from hunting to the trip home. The weekend
was more than a football game, a deer hunt or ride on a
A community stood behind a Marine who
needed it, showing their support and gratitude for a wounded
By USMC Staff Sgt. Tracie Kessler
6th Marine Corps District
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