Christopher Lawrence, 24 years old and eloquently spoken, is an Iraq Combat veteran who served with the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, 5th Marine Regiment. He deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion in 2007, where he received a Purple Heart. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2009 after five years of service and the rank of Sergeant. He joined the Warrior Traditions team in April of 2010.
The skies on the day Christopher was injured were not unlike the beautiful sunny Southern California skies today. The normally 120 degree heat had not risen much above 90; in Iraq terms… a perfect day. He marveled at the good fortune of it while brushing his teeth that morning, only mildly curious as to why the two medallions he wore daily had just broken free from their chain.
Soon after getting squared away and ready for the day, Christopher was carrying the unit’s radio (he called it a “10-foot shoot me sign”) and crossing a foot bridge from Alus Island in the Anbar Province back toward the mainland. That’s when he heard the click which would change his life life forever. A bomb detonated under his feet throwing him as high as the palm trees lining the Euphrates River below. He didn’t wake up until a week later.
He credits everything from God to the helicopters that just happened to be patrolling his area, with being alive today. The doctors who performed his surgeries had a lot of work to do. Christopher’s injuries were horrific. One leg was broken to pieces, which was better than the other one that had been virtually liquified. Christopher still had all his limbs up to five months after the blast, but decided that his mobility was more important than keeping his leg. He now has a metal prosthesis and enjoys running and biking.
Christopher works for Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) as an outreach specialist. He knows from experience how important it is to reach out to transitioning combat veterans. Christopher has experienced himself the addictive nature of the pain medication the injured are prescribed. Fortunately for him, there was someone to talk to about it. When he was having flashbacks that kept him awake night after night, he had someone to talk to. And that’s who Christopher wants to be for his fellow Marines.
The VVSD provides a confidential, off-base support group called Warrior Traditions. The North County location where Christopher works offers group on Monday and Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.. Christopher leads the meeting along with a licensed clinician who is also a combat veteran. OIF/OEF service members can come in, enjoy some food (mainly pizza I understand), camaraderie, and maybe see that they can reach out for help in a safe environment.
Christopher’s message to anyone who hasn’t been in a combat situation is to not condemn the behavior of combat vets until you first try to get them help. When your loved one comes back from a combat situation, they aren’t the same person as when they left. The non-characteristic behavior needs to be addressed.
When asked what are the obstacles to combat vets getting help, he said the first one is the Corps itself. Some combat veterans stay in and keep deploying because it gives their wounds a purpose. They mask the pain that someday will have to go somewhere. The other obstacle is the Marine himself not dealing with the pain, maybe by abusing drugs and/or alcohol, or resorting to suicide.
Christopher did find out later from a friar visiting from the local monastery in Bethesda — Brother John — that when a blessing medal falls off, it’s the saints putting their blessing on you.