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Injured Marine recounts roadside bombing in Afghanistan

June 19, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Matthew Shank, left, and fellow Marine Steven Jones got together last week near Jones' home in Fort Smith, Va. Both were injured when an IED struck the vehicle in which they were riding in Afghanistan.
Submitted photo

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Injured Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Shank no sooner arrived in his hometown of Waynesboro on Tuesday evening than he was looking for a way out of town.

He had been separated from his Marine buddy Lance Cpl. Steven Jones since June 4 — the day the MRAP all-terrain vehicle in which they were riding was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Shank needed to go check on Jones as soon as he was able.

Shank, 21, and four others in his unit — the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines — were wounded in the attack, mostly with neck and back injuries.

They received care at a small hospital in Afghanistan before being transferred to a hospital in Germany. Shank was moved to Bethesda, Md., before returning to his home in Waynesboro to recuperate.

Shank and Jones were by each other’s side prior to deployment in April 2010. They deployed to Afghanistan in January 2011.

“I just thought it would be nice to see him,” Shank said. “It’s a different bonding than most people have. Not many people get blown up together.”

While Shank’s injuries were mostly to his back, Jones sustained injuries to his neck, back and leg.

So, on Friday, Shank pulled his back brace over his shirt — to protect his fractured thoracic vertebrae — and hopped in the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by his fiancee, Lindsay McKenzie, to visit Jones.

It was about a four-hour trip to see Jones in Fort Smith, Va., where he was recuperating from injuries sustained in the IED explosion.

Shank’s calm, matter-of-fact tone belies the seriousness of the events of June 4. They were going over a bridge near their base in Marjah, Afghanistan, when the IED expoloded under a vehicle.

“When it went off, the truck actually lifted off the ground; and then set back down. It blew the turret completely off. It blew the 50-caliber machine gun off — cracked the barrel and everything,” Shank said.

He was unconscious during the blast, but woke up when it was over.

“I was just yelling in pain, and I looked over and there was blood on the windshield. The guy next to me was thrown out of the vehicle. Both passenger doors came off and it threw those two guys out. The guy in the turret was Jones. He got knocked around pretty good. He got a broken jaw, a fractured neck and a messed-up knee,” Shank said.

Shank said they all are fortunate to be alive.

“We were lucky. There have been other incidences when the truck was blown in half and some guys died or had major injuries,” he said.

“It definitely could have been a lot worse. I was just looking at my arms and hands and legs and stuff after it happened, and I was pretty surprised that everything was good that I could tell, except for my back,” he said.

For the next six to eight weeks, Shank is on leave from the Marine Corps to recover from his injuries.

“I have four or five fractures in my back, T4, T5, T11 and some other ones in the middle of my back,” Shank said. “I pretty much have to wear my back brace when I’m doing anything. So basically when I’m out of bed, I’m supposed to have it on.”

He said his back is sore, but he is optimistic that he’ll make a complete recovery.

“I think it’s supposed to heal back to normal. So, I hope that’s what happens,” Shank said.

If his back heals the way it is expected to, Shank said he could be back in Afghanistan as early as September 2012.

“I want to go back because that will mean my back is better and that would be good,” Shank said.

But for now, Shank is enjoying his mother’s home cooking, and visiting with friends and family.

“It’s pretty nice (being home). I wish I could do more, but it’s still nice being back and getting out of that country,” Shank said.

He might have some restrictions — he can’t ride his four-wheeler or horses — until his back is completely healed. But he said he’s happy to be out of the 120-degree heat of Afghanistan for a while.

Despite being injured, Shank said he doesn’t regret his decision to join the Marine Corps.

“I don’t regret it. I feel pretty lucky that we’re all going to be fine and be basically back to normal hopefully. No, I don’t regret it,” Shank said.

Shank graduated from Hagerstown’s Heritage Academy in 2007 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2009.

“He always wanted to be in the military, ever since he was a little kid,” Shank’s mother, Kim, said previously.

Shank was awarded the Purple Heart.

Shank and McKenzie, also of Waynesboro, are planning an Oct. 1 wedding.

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