"It’s a victory that I’m here today.”
Marine Corps Cpl. Robin Griffiths was asleep in his tent when the mortar rounds hit.
Shrapnel ripped through his chest and stomach. His left elbow was shattered. A lung collapsed. The left side of his body was burned.
It was Jan. 27, 2005, south of Baghdad, and Griffiths thought he was going to die.
Shortly afterward, a Marine helicopter landed to shepherd Griffiths to safety.
“I still remember the ride,” said Griffiths, who is now medically retired and living in Milton. “I was thinking ‘I’m good. They’ve got me now.’ It’s a victory that I’m here today.”
Griffiths told his story to hundreds of military personnel and civilians Friday at Whiting Field Naval Air Station during a panel discussion on casualty evacuations.
The panel was part of EscaRosa Independence Weekend, a four-day event to honor wounded military veterans.
More than 130 wounded veterans from across the country arrived in Pensacola Thursday for the event.
Griffiths was the only wounded veteran on the panel, which included pilots who rescue the wounded and the medical personnel who treat them.
“If you go back a couple of millennia, if you were wounded on the battlefield, you laid there until the end of the battle,” said Marine Corps Col. John S. Walsh, panel moderator and commodore of Training Wing Five at Whiting Field. “Most likely you died on the battlefield if you were severely wounded.”
“American fighting men and women know they have somebody looking out for them at all times,” Walsh said. “They put their lives on the line, and they know their buddies will take care of them.”
Griffiths said that knowing they will be taken care of if they are wounded helps motivate Marines and soldiers on the ground who face danger at every turn.
He had seen Marines fall on the battlefield before his own injury.
“When you see a Marine go down, it’s an experience you’ll never forget,” Griffiths said. “But knowing that Marine was home and safe a couple of weeks later gave me the motivation to go out and kick doors down and bust down insurgents.”
Marine Corps Capt. Christopher Gordon is one of the helicopter rescue pilots who has retrieved Marines and soldiers from the battlefield.
He remembers one call came in to retrieve mass casualties in Ramadi — 36 Navy Seabees were injured during a rocket attack while in formation.
“It didn’t matter what the weather was like, it didn’t matter if the enemy was there or not,” he said. “It didn’t matter if it was a hot zone or cold zone, they knew we were coming.”