Technical Sergeant Tom Marcum pondered how to reply to the interviewer’s question: What is something most people don’t know about you?
As Tom surveyed his memories, searching for an appropriate response, he sorted through his childhood growing up in Astatula, Florida…his days at Tavares High School…his decision to join the Air Force in 1996…his training as a weapons expert…his seven deployments…his assignment to guard the bodies of Saddam Hussein’s sons…the day he saved Vice President Dick Cheney’s life…and the four explosions that almost took his own.
And then this “gunsmith on steroids,” as he jokingly calls himself, answered with a spirit of honesty and utter humility: “I am a weak and feeble person.”
Not the words you’d expect to hear.
“I am a weak and feeble man because God gives me the strength every day to get up, breathe, and do everything I need to do,” Tom went on to explain. “Without God’s strength, I am nothing.”
In addition to acknowledging the source of his strength, Tom gives credit to his wife April, calling her his lifeline. They were high school sweethearts, married shortly thereafter, and had known each other since the third grade.
“She’s been my greatest support through my recovery.”
As the result of experiencing four separate mortar explosion incidents in less than 24 months, Tom suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) and struggles with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I also have a lot of secondary issues, such as hearing loss, an orbital wall blow-out fracture, vestibular issues, vision problems, a shoulder injury, and cognitive-processing issues.”
In retrospect, Tom says he didn’t initially receive the medical care he needed because, as he puts it, “I looked okay, but I felt like my world was rocked.” He compares the experiences of surviving four separate blasts to a person being cut by a knife over and over again.
“The injury just keeps getting deeper and deeper. By the last one – which slammed me up against an armory and knocked me out – my head had simply had enough.”
Surgeons removed shrapnel from Tom’s right shoulder, but after being medically retired in 2010, Tom says he lapsed into a deep depression. TBI and PTSD were simply too much to endure.
That’s when his wife April called Wounded Warrior Project®. She attended a caregiver retreat, and Tom says, “The rest is history. Now every time Wounded Warrior Project has anything going on, I’m the first to sign up.”
Tom is optimistic about his recovery, saying he takes it one day at a time. But he says his passion for building custom weapons has subsided, and nowadays he’d much rather spend time with his wife and their two sons.
His new passion is meeting and helping other warriors who also struggle with recovery.
“My message is don’t give up. Three strikes in life doesn’t mean you’re out. There’s always one more thing you can do. Give it time and you can finish your journey. I want to show other warriors they can make it like I did.”