On the day Staff Sergeant Jordan Emrick saved Guy Zierk’s life, he lost his own. Now Guy is on a mission to assist and help improve the lives of wounded veterans facing the long road to recovery and reintegration at home.
It was November 5, 2010 and Guy was conducting a dismounted patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan with the 2nd Batallion, 6th Marines when a firefight broke out with insurgents. Guy tells the story in the present tense, almost as if the story has not yet ended.
“I bring in aircraft overhead and talk them onto the area we are receiving fire,” he says. “At that point, I cannot see where we’re being shot at, so I begin to move up to a corner of a building where I can get a better observation and target refinement. Staff Sergeant Emrick stops me and says, ‘Sir that area hasn’t been cleared.’ I immediately stop, turn my back, and look down at my map while talking to the pilot overhead. Staff Sergeant Emrick comes around me, and he’s only an arm’s distance from me when he detects an improvised explosive device (IED). He takes a knee and it detonates instantly killing him. I took fragmentation from the blast and I believe was temporarily knocked unconscious.”
In an instant, one life ended, and another changed forever. Though injured, Guy never lost focus on his duty or his commitment to the Marines he served with.
“I felt as if I was on fire,” he said. “I’m running two different flights now, two fixed-wing aircraft onto targets and two escort and two evac helicopters to lift our fallen angel off of the battlefield.
“We get Staff Sergeant Emrick on the helicopter and get him lifted off. As the firefight has ceased I get put in the truck and get checked out. I tell the doc I’m fine, I can count to five. But he said it’s a lot more extensive than that.”
In fact, it was more extensive. Guy suffered moderate traumatic brain injury (mTBI), the signature wound of the current conflicts. His experience after three combat tours led to a better understanding of someone else who had an important role in Guy’s life.
“My father never really talked much about his experiences from World War II,” Guy said of the man who had flown more than 30 bombing runs over Germany aboard a B-17G Flying Fortress. “Upon my return from Afghanistan I was doing some research on him and found out that he had lost a very good friend in a very gruesome way. It now makes sense and explains the way he looked at me when I was telling him my stories. It has given me a sense of comfort despite the separation of decades on different battlefields.”
Today, Guy’s TBI hasn’t kept him from continuing to serve his comrades in arms. Now a Marine Corps captain, he works long hours helping veterans readjust to life at home.
“There’s an operational tempo the Marines have when they’re deployed,” he said. “Then, when they come back to the States and separate from the service, they don’t have that constant day-in, day-out rhythm. I found my rhythm in this job. I work 10 or 12 hours a day doing what I do. I’m mainly focused on helping veterans transition back to civilian life.
“All these veterans, no matter what their injuries, have untapped potential. But now they have to set their own milestones and find their own mission. And when you see them succeeding, knowing you were just a small part of it, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
That’s one of the reasons Guy has become involved with Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). As a member of its National Campaign Team Guy can share his story and expertise with more recently injured veterans and help them streamline the recovery process.
“I want to give veterans a hand up not a hand out,” he says. “I’d like to help veterans find their mission, because that can make this nation greater.”