CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The end of his first deployment with 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit brought a lot of tumultuous times for Sgt. Charlie Brown, a Data Network Specialist with 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward). The September 11 attacks happened, prompting Brown’s unit to pull him off of leave and send him to Iraq.
Continued action in Iraq kept Brown deployed for the better part of five years. The Memphis native did four tours in Iraq, his third being the most memorable.
Originally a machine gunner with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Brown’s squads were accustomed to days filled with patrols and security operations throughout Iraq. When the Kilo Company Marines found a rock quarry that needed to be secured, and subsequently patrolled, they went through their routine of setting up a squad schedule.
“Five minutes after we got ready and the schedule was set and everything, I was on rest time,” began Brown. “I heard three thumps. I looked at the [Marine on post] and yelled ‘what does that sound like?!’
“As soon as he put his arms up to say he didn’t know, three mortars landed inside the rock quarry. I took shrapnel on my left arm and left leg. A gunny took shrapnel in the neck. We loaded everyone up, and did the evacuation.”
Less than five hours later, the shrapnel was removed and those who could return to work did.
“We were back at the Delta Iraqi National Guard Compound,” the 10-year Marine began again. “I was simply walking in between two barriers and a frog missile landed inside the compound and I took shrapnel to my right leg. I didn’t know it, though.”
The perpetual leader didn’t notice his own injuries because he was concerned with the other casualties who had been playing recreational football when the missile landed.
“I ran out there, and the first Marine I came across had shrapnel pretty bad - a sucking chest wound, some big eviscerations,” he recalled. “I started first aid on him, then the corpsmen showed up and they took over. [Someone] came up behind me and grabbed my leg and yanked it out from under me and said, ‘You’re bleeding!’”
The two then did what most people would call reckless: they ripped open Brown’s trousers, found a large piece of metal protruding from his leg, and proceeded to pull it out with multi-tool they had handy.
“People always laugh when they hear that part,” Brown said with a chuckle, admitting that it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but adding that, “I had just been blown up again, so I wasn’t really thinking straight.”
Needless to say, it was back to the medical facility for Brown. He laughed again when he remembered the medical personnel were thrown off when they saw him, asking, “Didn’t we just see you?”
“They stitched [my leg] up and I ended up putting super glue on it for the next two weeks to keep it from opening up,” he concluded, as if it were nothing more than a paper cut.
Before the end of that tour in Iraq, Brown was awarded two Purple Heart Medals.
“By definition, it’s an award for wounds received in action,” the self-proclaimed competition-junkie explained. “I never put that much stock into a Purple Heart, because people have just gotten them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but both of mine were direct from the round.”
While he admits that he hadn’t given much thought to the medals until he was actually awarded them, Brown says he couldn’t be more proud of them.
“My Purple Hearts mean a lot to me, because I know during the time I got those, I was doing something I believed in and that I knew was right,” Brown continued, following the statement with an anecdote about his father.
“One of the things my dad taught me at a young age was to leave the world a better place than when you come in, and that’s something that has stuck with me.
“Anytime people award me for things I’ve done, that’s just kind of an affirmation that they notice that I am doing good - I was doing good when I got injured,” he said.
Brown wrapped up his recollection by admitting that he often uses his story to get others to open up to him.
“I tell this story very often, because people think Purple Hearts are very serious, but mine allows me to open up a lighter side,” Brown concluded. “I use my awards to inspire young Marines.”