Ben – US Marine – Heart Condition

I joined the military no differently than most 18 year old kids who graduate high school and decide that college wasn’t for them. So I walked into the local Marine recruiting office and said im ready when can I leave, but I ran into a lot of obstacles from the first day I walked into the recruiters office that many others never did, but no one has ever been able to tell me I can’t do something.

My first obstacle was the all too easy ASVAB test. I was told not to worry I was fresh out of highschool. So not worrying about it I went down there and took the test. I failed it, I said ok so that wasn’t the plan looked at my recruiter said what now? he said well if you cant even do that you mine as well go home kid. I told him that wasn’t stopping me he said ok. Come back in 30 days you take it again we go from there. On day 30 I was back in the office ready to take that ride back down to MEPS to take that test again. I walked in, took the test and this time passed with a good enough score to take any MOS I wanted. It was right out the gate that I was determined and wouldn’t quit.

In January of 2007 I went to boot camp. Arrived and did the routine, got off the bus stood on the yellow footprints. Made that awesome scripted phone call home to my mom which she was told was a recording so she hung up crying half way through. A couple of days later we form up and stretch for our initial strength test. I do my pull ups and pass with no issues, but when I laid down to do my crunches which i had to get 40 of. I only managed to get out 33. At home right before i left i could do 100 without a problem, but between the fatigue in my legs and my partners lack of effort to sit correctly on my feet I was destined to fail. I completed the run without any issues. Those of us who failed any part of the initial strength test were given the option to walk away, go home and skip what was coming to us. Two people quit right then and there. For the rest of us it was up to our senior drill instructor to keep us or drop us back. Looking at my pull-ups and run time I later found out they kept me because they said I didn’t quit and that issue could be fixed. When the time came for our final PFT I completed with a first class. Never gave up on a single thing the rest of my 13 weeks.

After graduating boot camp I went to school of infantry like every other Marine, I went in signed up to be infantry but was booted from the school on day 1 because the class was overbooked. With too many spaces open for specialty MOS’s they changed things up for me. When I graduated a group of us were held behind for a health screening to be military fire fighters. I completed the physical at Camp Lejeune to be a fire fighter and everything seemed to be fine. Or so I thought.

For DOD Fire School every branch minus the Navy goes to Good Fellow AFB San Angelo, Texas. Navy has their own school because fighting fire on a ship and on an airfield are two different things. Texas was about to become my new home for a while, but I wasn’t upset. Texas is a place that if it doesn’t grow on you, you don’t belong there. I was sitting in my second week of class when our instructor came in with a list and sent all 4 Marines to medical. They hadn’t finished our medical screenings. We went over to base medical and life as I knew it would be turned upside down. I was hooked up to the EKG machine when the girl administering the test got this strange look on her face went and got a doctor. My EKG was abnormal, and I was dropped from the school pending medical evaluation immediately.

The next day I stepped into the Marine Detachment went upstairs and sat in a room with other Marines who were medically messed up from training or liberty accidents. Not the most motivating bunch of people to be around. They all got up and began cleaning the detachment and doing whatever activities they were assigned. I was assigned a No Duty chit from air force medical as they were afraid I would keel over and die at any minute. A few days later I was sent to a civilian cardiologist and at this point was brainwashed that I was going do die from heart failure if I did anything and was told by the air force they were recommending medical separation for me. They told me I wasn’t going to be a Marine anymore.

My mom flew down that fourth of July because she wanted to see me, as any parent would who’s kid got told they had a heart condition they were born with but was never detected. I was diagnosed with a Bicusbid Aortic Valve with mild insufficiency. Basically instead of 3 leaflets i had 2 and the third never developed so it leaks. “Leaky Heart Valve” They had started my separation board paperwork which can take 6-12 months to process in the military. Since I was a Marine on an Air Force Base, it was going to be 12 because I was not their number one priority. While my mom visited we went for a ride and I took her to see the West Texas Plains from a high point just outside of town. Was a cool spot. When we sat down she asked me what I thought of everything going on. I told her I was confused. I was 18 years old, I wasn’t a doctor I had no idea what they were telling me other than it was dangerous and serious. My mom told me, I have called some people and done some research, she began to tell me that there were Olympic athletes with the same condition, Marine and Navy Pilots, and she had found rumor of SOF Operators who existed with this issue. She then asked me one question, “If it is such a bad condition, after the life I had lived up until that point… why was I still alive?” A question in that two weeks that had never even crossed my mind. If it was so bad why wasn’t I dead…

When I returned that Monday reminded that in the household I was raised in the words, cant, quit and never are not used. I walked downstairs that morning and talked to the Gunny who was tracking my med package which was bound for Corpus Christi Texas. His theory after I displayed the research to him was that this was going to be the biggest waste of time my career would experience, but he told me sit tight and ride it out. I was still on a No Duty Chit which a few months later was turned into light duty. I was worried about losing the athletic ability I had gained in the 6 months before. Being a Marine means staying in shape or you suck. I was not going to be that guy. I secretly did PT at night or long before anyone got up. Occasionally after assigned doctors appointments out in town. One day I was caught by a lat move sergeant who had checked into the barracks in the middle of the day. He immediately went to the command and demanded I be charged for malingering as I was still apart of broke Marine Platoon. At that point they moved me from broke Marine platoon to the detachment office as that wouldn’t be the last NCO to have an issue with my secret PT with a light duty chit. I didn’t care what they said, I knew if I was released back to regular duty I had to be ready to perform and Graduate.

January came and I got a giant package in the mail at the detachment. It was my MED Board decision. After scrolling through the 60 pages of shit I finally found the decision page. It wasn’t the result Gunny and I expected. The Navy wanted to separate me, but not only did they want to separate me, they had also made it clear that my condition was not the fault of the Military and I was to be discharged with no benefits, Not even my GI Bill. In a time when life couldn’t get much darker. I still didn’t quit. I came to work the next day and said so Gunny whats next. He said you get out you go home you move on with life. I told him I wasn’t taking that for an answer and I would do whatever it takes. He said ” Take it up with the Navy”… that is exactly what I did.

I found in the paperwork where I didnt have to accept the findings, I could request formal med board in front of Marine and Navy personnel in Washington DC and plead my case. In March of 2008 that is exactly where I went.

I was in Washington DC, it was my first time. The evening before my board from the hotel I was staying at on Andrews AFB I set out to find two things. The Iwo Jima Monument and Arlington National Cemetary. I felt I needed a little motivation before standing in the Washington Navel Yard in the morning. Arlington is the quietest most humbling thing I have ever seen.

The next morning I went to the Washington Navel Yard to meet my Lawyer and wait my turn to sit down in my board room and have my case heard. They called my name, I reported in and the case began. My Lawyer read of the case of a Seal who was in a particular predicament at some point in his career and was declared fit and read a couple of other cases. The board members still didn’t seem moved. I was then asked if I wished to make a statement before their decision. At this point I knew I had nothing to lose. I stood up and respectfully addressed the board stating that I had come so far, and all I was asking was that no matter what job assigned by the Navy, I just wanted to remain a US Marine didn’t care how because it didn’t matter, I told them I would not quit until my last day. I stated and showed them the charge sheets from NCO’s in the school from PTing and the last thing I said was. If they couldn’t kill me in boot camp, what will in the fleet Marine force. Their facial expressions changed and i was dismissed. I went back into an office to review with my case with my lawyer. She said she would let me know the results as soon she did but she told me she had no idea I had it in me to look a full bird colonel in the face and tell him how it is. Moments later there was a knock at the door. The Navy captain sitting in the board walked in the room. She asked me to be seated. She looked at me and said for the first time since she had worked in the Washington Naval yard she was going to give their decision immediately. She said the decision was unanimous to keep me in and an investigation into the air force officer staff who boarded me was going to begin immediately. I was going to remain a US Marine.

The next hump came when it was time for me to deploy, but I have my Afghan Campaign ribbon and later was selected for MARSOC, when I told the recruiter of my condition and told him I had achieved a lot but that might be pushing it. He told me, the reason you were looked at is because we were told you know how to push yourself. I later decided instead to get out and pursue a starting a family outside the Military for personal reasons. I decision I later regretted but thats another story I overcame later.

After being told over and over again to quit, give up, told I cant do this or that. I defied all odds and never quit. Ive had many other obstacles since then, but never quit.

I would love to share this story with yall if you believe its worthy. This wold in the condition its in sure could use some motivation to harden up and have some determination.

Thanks for your time


Author: Ben