USMC Wounded Warrior Defies Odds ... Returns To Duty
by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Benjamin Whitten
May 15, 2021
After four years of limb salvage, seven surgeries and 781 days with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Battalion - West, Capt. Thomas Benge is returning to full duty.
In early 2016, Benge suffered a debilitating injury from a motorcycle accident.
“I had a pilon fracture,” he explained. “Essentially, the bones in my ankle blew up into a lot of fragments. I went through the limb salvage recovery process for a couple years, in and out of being fit for duty and not fit and eventually the surgeries just didn't work out and they had to amputate my leg.”
The injury itself was not the only obstacle he faced.
Benge, like many other Marines prior to transferring to Wounded Warrior, had to manage all of his own medical care. He had multiple doctors across military and civilian treatment facilities that did not synchronize their communications. Benge understandably struggled with managing his recovery process without the help of Wounded Warrior.
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Thomas Benge competes in the track finals during the 2021 Regional Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 15, 2021. The Marine Corps Trials is an opportunity for recovering service members to demonstrate their achievements and serves as the primary venue to select Marine Corps participants for the DoD Warrior Games. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Mellizza Bonjoc)
“Once I came to Wounded Warrior I was able to have a nurse care manager. And they were able to assist me in making sure that all the medical providers worked towards the common goal that I wanted or needed,” recounted Benge. “It was a lot of stress off my back.”
As of April 27, 2021, Benge is no longer a recovering service member at WWBn-W.
“I was found completely fit for duty.” Benge announced. “And so with an amputation below the knee, I'm not aware of anybody that was non-combat related that was found fit for full duty. So, to my knowledge, I'm the first one.”
Since its inception in 2007, the Wounded Warrior Regiment has been home to wounded, ill, and injured Marines and Sailors attached to Marine units. Today, more than 600 recovering service members reside at the various wounded warrior elements to focus on their healing and recovery. On average, WWR has approximately 75% non-combat related wounded, ill and injured in their population. Benge’s return to duty is a unique case; no others like his could be found within the WWR.
“The recovery care process is unique to every member,” explained U.S. Navy CDR. Danielle Lagoski, Regimental Surgeon for the WWR. “Our teams are well equipped to assist our Marines and Sailors in their recovery and transition. We see Marines and Sailors with catastrophic, life-altering injuries and illnesses. Not every recovery outcome allows the Marine to transition back to a Fleet Marine Force unit, so it’s very special that he was determined fit for duty.”
Benge will now work as a staff member at the Wounded Warrior Battalion, assisting other recovering service members and continuing his career as an active-duty Marine. Benge’s first piece of advice to fellow RSMs: don’t give up.
“It's so easy for us to just give up on ourselves when you have something that's so catastrophic. I think this place is an inspiration when you get here to focus on yourself. That is a hard transition, but once you do, it is amazing how quickly you can overcome the obstacles that you have and maximize your potential. So, don't give up.”
During his time with WWR, Benge participated in multiple adaptive sports events to include track, swimming, archery, golf and cycling. The varied athletic training and annual competitions allowed him to prove that his disability does not define him. The annual Marine Corps Trials concluded at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., this month where Benge competed against fellow active-duty RSMs in the region. He achieved great success both this year and last year, medaling in several competitions.
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Thomas Benge competes in the cycling time trials during the 2021 Regional Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 17, 2021. The Marine Corps Trials is an opportunity for recovering service members to demonstrate their achievements and serves as the primary venue to select Marine Corps participants for the DoD Warrior Games. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Mellizza Bonjoc)
“During the limb salvage process there were a lot of things I couldn't do,” said Benge. “That's the great thing about [adaptive] sports. They have shown me that I am just as capable as anybody else. I don't see myself as not being able to accomplish things because I have an amputation."
While he is no longer a recovering service member with the Battalion, his recovery remains a life-long endeavor. Benge may compete in future adaptive sporting events, inspiring others who may still be on their own road to recovery. Regardless of where the Corps sees Benge next, the last four years have been a testament to his support team, dedication, and grit.
"Thank you to everybody that was engaged in my case and that helped me with my recovery,” said Benge. “Absolutely thank you to all those people. Without my family, and without the Wounded Warrior Battalion and Regiment, I would've never been able to accomplish the recovery I have.”
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