CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
It seemed to be just another routine patrol for a squad of Marines walking the streets of Marjah, Afghanistan in July 2010. For one motivated corporal, who was the leader of a three-man fire team from 2nd Battalion 4th Marine Regiment, this patrol would change his life forever.
As Anthony A. Arriaga and his team continued their patrol two gunmen began shooting at him, one with an AK-47 assault rifle and the other with a bolt-action sniper rifle. The gunmen fired several shots one of which hit him from behind, striking his small-arms protective insert (SAPI plate) and knocked him to the ground.
At that point, he realized his entire squad had walked into a 360-ambush, said 28-year-old Arriaga.
Arriaga jumped to his feet and ran toward his automatic riflemen to help suppress enemy onslaught. He was hit again, this time in the SAPI plate on his side, which knocked him to the ground once more.
“At the time my team only had a Squad Automatic Weapon gunner, a scout sniper and myself,” Arriaga said. “Getting up and running did two things; it got me closer to my SAW gunner who was the operator of my team’s primary weapon, and it allowed myself and my team to identify the location of the enemy while they were engaging me.”
The insurgents continued shooting several rounds at Arriaga, who despite his slender 5 foot 5 inch stature, was attempting to draw the fire away from his team until he was by a bullet to his right leg.
“Just by the scream I knew he was hit,” said Sgt. Jason T. Pacheco, a scout sniper on his team who was 25-yards ahead of him at the time of the attack.
“I exposed myself a lot whenever I got in firefights, simply because I was the team leader, and I would rather the enemy shoot at me than shoot at my guys,” said Arriaga. “(The sniper) got me in my right leg, right above the knee,” Arriaga said. “It ended up going straight through, blowing out my inner thigh and cutting my nerve.”
Arriaga recalled slipping in and out of consciousness, and said he remembered how a nurse made him feel better by rubbing his ears while he was transported to a forward operating base.
“I remember he was pretty calm and collected, he just wanted to know if he was going to be okay,” Pacheco said.
Arriaga’s right leg is now paralyzed from the knee down due to the injury, and he has to wear a knee brace to walk.
Arriaga said he chose limb salvage rather than amputation. The medical staff recommended he amputate his leg because his leg was useless. Arriaga was determined to keep his leg despite the pain, and said he wanted to examine every opportunity possible to keep it. After a year and a half of trying more than a dozen braces for his leg, he said he finally found the one that best enhances his range of mobility.
“I can walk, run and for the most part conduct business as usual,” Arriaga said.
Arriaga still suffers chronic pain, and if it continues or worsens he said he might reconsider amputation.
Two and a half years after his return home, now Sgt. Arriaga remains an active-duty Marine at Wounded Warrior Battalion West here.
Being a part of the WWBn., provided Arriaga a chance to compete in the Marine Corps Trials for the second consecutive year. This year he won a bronze medal for pistol marksmanship during a shooting competition and was selected to go to Colorado Springs, Colo., to compete on the All-Marine team at the Warrior Games.
“A lot of my opportunities, and my recovery, would not be possible if it wasn’t for the Wounded Warrior Battalion,” Arriaga said. “The staff, events and programs they provide has definitely helped me with my life and me trying to stay in the Marine Corps. They do everything they possibly can to help me with my needs, whether it’s mental, physical or family.”
Arriaga plans to lateral move into the intelligence field to be an analyst and to continue to serve until retirement.
“Despite facing numerous difficult challenges during his recovery, he has overcome every obstacle while remaining true to Marine Corps and his fellow Marines,” said Lt. Col. James Fullwood, the Wounded Warrior Battalion West commanding officer. “He is the epitome of a Marine NCO who leads from the front and has always maintained himself as an example to all.”
For more information please contact Cpl. Trevon S. Peracca at, Trevon.Peracca@usmc.mil.