“Even though I try not to,” admits Justin Constantine,“I still feel embarrassed and guilty about my injury.”
A heartfelt confession like that can be difficult for a civilian to understand, especially coming from a Marine Corps major who’s talking about being shot in the head. Perhaps it’s his background as a lawyer that makes him so hard on himself. But it’s a moment of truth for this Purple Heart recipient as he adjusts to life after his serious injury.
It happened in October 2006. Justin was on combat patrol near Habbaniyah, halfway between Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq. The sniper’s bullet hit him behind his left ear.
“The corpsman on patrol saved my life. Without his rescue breathing and emergency tracheotomy, I would have died right there. The lance corporal rushed me through the war zone, risking his own life, to get me to the aid station.”
Justin was immediately treated at the field hospitals at Al Taqaddum Airbase and Balad Air Base in Iraq. Afterward, he spent four days at Germany’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and almost five weeks at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
According to Justin, he is about 75 percent recovered and now receives treatment at Johns Hopkins University.
But it has never stopped Justin’s will to live and thrive. He credits a quote from Winston Churchill as one of his inspirations.
“Never, never, never, give up.”
Justin is certainly living those words. He currently works for the FBI on a counterterrorism team, serves on a Congressional task force for wounded warriors, and is in the process of applying for graduate school. He also tries to get in as much golf as he can, and he especially enjoys spending quality time with his wife, Dahlia.
“She constantly encourages me and provided great comfort during some really rough times. She was pursuing her Ph.D. at Cambridge University in England when I was shot. We weren’t married at the time, but she dropped out of her program to be with me in the hospital.”
Dahlia teaches elementary school in northern Virginia and plans to continue to pursue her Ph. D when the couple moves to Austin, Texas in a few years.
“She is currently teaching third grade and loves it,” says Justin, with obvious pride. “She studied a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help me and her students, especially those from rough urban neighborhoods. She was a source of strength for me during my recovery and in helping me define my new normal. And she’s especially skilled at educating people about the viewpoint of the caregiver and the challenges that come along with that unexpected reality.”
Justin and Dahlia both participate in Wounded Warrior Project® events, including Restore Warriors™.
“It made us think through a bunch of things,” says Justin. “Knowing that we are helping others definitely made it worthwhile. I’m also looking forward to participating in Soldier Ride®.”
With Dahlia’s help – the person he calls “the perfect woman for me” – Justin says he concentrates on looking forward, not about the day he was shot.