U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Charlie Linville shares his story of injury, loss, and recovery with Kingsley Airmen
By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson, 173rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 21, 2016
KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Charlie Linville's life changed with one fateful step in Afghanistan in 2011. As an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician he performed an incredibly dangerous mission, clearing land riddled with hidden explosives and mines so that others could safely operate there.
He describes the day beginning with hearing two detonations in the area and then suiting up and beginning to sweep for Improvised Explosive Devices where two Marines were injured.
"I got hit with what we call a legacy IED; it had been in the ground for a long time and I stepped on it," said Linville. "It had a low metallic signature so you can barely hear anything from the metal detectors, it's so faint--and that's how good you have to be as an EOD tech."
And the first thing he did as the pain began to set in was take a picture holding his mangled fingers up with a broad grin on his face, giving the camera a "high-five." He gestures to the photo and says, "We call this a happy snap, I was still conscious and it had just started to hurt a little bit."
Linville explains that his smile isn't just courage in the face of terrible misfortune--it is that--but it is also a window into his comprehension of the battle field at that moment.
"I felt like I won the lottery at that point because I should be a triple amputee," he says citing the fact that this bombs payload was degraded by moisture to about 30-percent. "Both my legs above the knee and my right hand somewhere around the elbow would have been traumatically amputated."
He goes on to explain that getting medically evacuated from where he was at took an hour, but that a person suffering wounds that extensive has at most 30-minutes to reach the operating table or "else you do not make it," he said. "The fact that I am here today speaking to you and all the things I've gotten to do with my life--it's just a blessing."
And one of those blessings was being recruited by Tim Medvetz of the Hero's Project to climb Mt. Everest and be the first combat injured vet to do so.
But between him and the world's tallest mountain yawned the wide chasm of psychological trauma, from PTSD, from the feelings of despair, from the constant pain of recovery, from the many, many surgeries to save his mangled right leg and after 18 months of recovery Charlie Linville's life still hung in the balance.
"I was a young 26-year-old Marine, I was taking care of IEDs every day, I was taking the fight to the enemy, I loved my job," he said. "The blast took away my manhood in a sense."
He describes how bleak the rest of his life seemed to him then.
"I fell into a very deep place, a place I didn't know if I was going to get out of because that's what my life was going to be, it was going to be pain, I was angry, I wasn't getting along with my family and my kids were asking why I couldn't go play and I just hated life."
The trending #22Pushupchallenge tells us we lose 22 Veteran's a day to suicide, and while he doesn't say it explicitly to the Airmen of the 173rd Fighter Wing, he makes it clear he was considering ending his life. The turning point for Charlie was making the decision to have his lower right leg amputated. He shows his audience a picture of him holding his leg up and once again smiling.
"I woke up about 10:20 that morning and I looked down at my leg and I had the biggest smile on my face," he said.
He said seeing others recover from their amputations gave him confidence, and within two months he ran his first triathlon.
"I needed to know what I was capable of," he said. "I trained really hard and everybody told me I couldn't do it and that's when I started hearing words like 'you can't do this, it's impossible.'"
Yet he did it, and that is when The Hero's Project entered the picture asking him to tackle a year's long project to summit the world's highest mountain. Founder Tim Medvetz says he felt Linville demonstrated determination and resiliency in his choice to go into harm's way in the Marine Corps, in his choice to pursue a dangerous career path in EOD and finally in his decision to amputate his leg when it was clear that its usefulness to him had passed.
More than three years later, with two thwarted attempts at the summit one retired Marine Staff Sgt. Charlie Linville climbed Mt. Everest with his prosthetic leg.
That accomplishment is hard to quantify, but a few details help us see it clearly. It's so dangerous that nearly 300 climbers have died in the attempt, most of them experienced professionals--a number that is roughly one-out-of-four. The air is so thin that above 26-thousand feet it cannot sustain human life, a climber's body literally begins to die as they work their way up the mountain, making it necessary to race for the summit and descend back below 26-thousand-feet in a single push.
Those that never left the mountain have stories of raised winds that pinned them down, of pulmonary edema's sudden onset--when the brain swells, of falls and slips and avalanches, of hypothermia, of fatigue holding them from the summit just a little too long and the resulting mental fog condemning them to remain there. The cold conditions preserve these climbers at their final resting place.
None but the most able can do this, and what Charlie proved is that some who suffer traumatic injuries, who nearly succumb to depression, who see their lives shredded in an instant, can gather themselves and remain among the most able-bodied in the world.
This experience leaves him with hard earned wisdom, he puts it like this, "It's not just about Charlie Linville, right? No matter what you're going through, as long as you recognize it and ask for help and make that conscious decision to be happy you can do anything as a human being."