Posted about 2 hours ago
Let me tell you about Cpl. Matt Bradford. The beginning of his email address
starts with “BionicMarine”, which should give you some idea right off. He’s not
particularly muscled up or big and tall or a recruiting poster-type Marine.
He’s relatively quiet until he figures out who exactly is in the room and he
assesses who among them he has met. That’s when the smack talking and the fun
You see, Bradford truly is a ‘bionic’ Marine. And he’s one exceptional
individual. Cpl. Bradford has no legs. And he has no eyes, unless you count the
one natural eye that no longer works and the other that is made of glass and
sports the University of Kentucky emblem embedded in it. His injuries were
sustained from severe shrapnel wounds from an IED in Iraq in 2006. His legs
were amputated from above the knee, and he walks on two titanium prosthetics and
with the aid of a cane.
Bradford will immediately start talking shit once he feels comfortable. He is
hilarious and fun to be around. He flirts with the girls. He flirted with
Gunny Wittrock’s daughter. He flirted with the News on 6 reporter. He flirted
with the Lt. Colonel’s wife. He made fun of the Sooners as they were losing.
He makes insanely funny wise-ass remarks about his injuries that suck you right
in before you even realize what’s happening. Simply put: he is like nearly
every other Marine I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving with or knowing.
Someone you’d feel safe having in your fighting hole and that you’d jump on a
grenade for if given the chance.
On Sunday, November 7th, 2010 at approximately 0815 hours, Cpl. Matt Bradford
killed his first buck at the Lone Tree Ranch. He did it with the aide of a
special digital riflescope, a mini-LCD screen and the help of Gunnery Sergeant
Mike Wittrock, who spotted for him and walked him onto the target. Colonel Alan
Orr, regimental Commanding Officer of 14th Marines, was there to assist and spot
for deer. The incident was fluid, hectic and abrupt. There were technological
difficulties with the scope, getting the magnification to power down while the
deer was closing in. At one point the magazine popped out of the rifle, thus
allowing Bradford only one shot at bagging this deer. But they made it happen,
just like Marines do, and the shot placement was perfect.
The deer that Bradford killed wasn’t overly big or had the best rack. He was
young. He had broken tines, and the tips of several of his antlers were worn
down and rough. This deer was a scrapper…a fighter. He clearly had been in
several scrapes with other bucks and had lived to walk another day. He had the
look of an animal that had that survival instinct; not pretty and handsome but
rugged and tough, like a creature that would claw his way to the top and defend
his turf,or steal the affections of a sweet young doe from a larger, more
dominant buck with a much larger set of antlers. A lot like Bradford himself,
I’d say. This buck seemed to share Bradford’s persona and predicament. At
first I was disappointed that we hadn’t gotten him onto a great huge beast,
until I realized these circumstances. Perfect.
To use a musical analogy, Bradford is a rock star. But like all great front men
there are always unsung heroes that back him, and this weekend’s hunt at the
Bowman Lodge was no different. Gunner Garfield was an EOD Marine who was inches
away from an IED when it blew up in his face. From what I’ve seen and know
about 155mm artillery shells and what they can do, he should’ve been reduced to
droplets. Yet here he was, hunting and fishing at the ranch with his sweet wife
of 10 years and an incredible tale of survival and divine intervention. Ssgt.
Rose was blown up this May, and suffers from a host of issues and is blind in
his left eye. When asked, “did you say you were from Alabama?” he replied,
“can’t you tell? I’m missing half my teeth!” I got on well with Sgt. Meng, who
was warm, gregarious and always present with what was going on. Col. Orr still
has the swagger of a Marine Corps officer that has attained such rank, yet was
down to earth and friendly and helpful like an old neighbor you grew up with.
He got choked up during his fireside speech on the last night, which to me
speaks volumes of his character. Lt. Col. Barnes reminds me of the character
“Franco” in the TV firemen drama ‘Rescue Me’, and like me and Allen Klark is a
policeman when he’s not the CO of the Marine Annex at BAMC. He, along with
everyone else present, was generous in spirit and in words. All had numerous
good things to say about the Bowman Lodge, our mission, and were quick to offer
friendly advice on how to improve the operation. Not one of them complained.
They even liked my speech at the end of the ‘Warrior’s Walk’, which means a lot
to me. I felt like I had known these men and their spouses all of my life.
That’s because I have. It’ part of what it means to be a “Devil Dog”, a
“Jarhead”, “Leatherneck”. I have many distant miles on my service now and
certainly don’t look the part but my heart still bleeds Marine Corps Green.
Like the hunt last month, we felt that emotional and spiritual “vortex” rise up
from the wood fires outside like an Oklahoma mesocyclone in the black sky; very
difficult to articulate and describe, but it was there alright. You can feel it
swirling all around you, and it will suck you in. Once inside there is a calm,
comfortable familiarity to it, and you don’t want to ever leave. It’s not just
being in the company of great men…it’s something larger than us. Something
both surreal and divine, angelic, almost. It’s a warm sense of belonging to
something meaningful, and sharing it with other kindred souls. We felt it with
our guests from the 101st Airborne, and we certainly felt it this weekend among
our fellow Marines. It stays with you like the finish of a warm, smooth
Highland Scotch and lingers like the smell of cordite and gunpowder. I find it
so difficult to put all of this into words, but whatever it is, it is simply
incredible. beautiful. Sublime.
I can, however, summarize the weekend’s hunt with something Wittrock shared with
me later. He said that sitting there at the Lodge’s “Buffalo Bar” for a few
hours next to Bradford, trading jabs about the SEC and Big 12, the Universities
of Oklahoma and Kentucky, smokin’ and jokin’ as we often say of our banter, he
looked down at his silver titanium legs dangling there and into his glass eye
and realized that for awhile he hadn’t even realized that he was disabled. It
was just like swapping old salty war stories with another vet, an old pal from
older days, comparing notes. He escorted Bradford to his suite and helped him
into the rack, take off and plug in his prosthetics, and more or less tucked him
in (they were inebriated, after all). He looked at Bradford, this young man
with no legs lying there, and it occurred to him that the only thing he’ll ever
see for the rest of his life is total and complete darkness. Yet Matt
Bradford’s spirit burned bright and hot as an Iraqi sun. He greeted each day
with the same resolve, the same dogged determination and humor when most of us
would utterly crumble under the same circumstances. It made all the drama,
irritations and banalities of daily life seem stupid and pointless by
When I wake up and my back aches, I’m going to think of Bradford. When my ears
start to ring or I can’t hear and understand my wife speak to me in a crowed
noisy restaurant, I’ll think of Gunner garfield. When I think that pimple or
pockmarked cheekbone warrants a micro-dermabrasion treatment (ok, not really) or
get a damn eyelash stuck in my lid, I’m gonna think of Ssgt. Rose. When I start
to bitch and complain about the line at Sam’s or the grocery store, I’ll
remember Matt Bradford slowly hobbling down the Lodge’s main hallway, patiently
creeping towards his cup of coffee. I only hope I can remember to do this
whenever I’m in a stupid tizzy over something or have my panties in a wad when
life sucks. The humility and perseverance these men have shown me should serve
me for the rest of my life, but I know it probably won’t and I’ll forget if I
don’t force it into my memory banks.
It’s because these men deserve it from me…they really deserve it from all of