Our Tank

This is an Abrams tank:

This is a United States Marine:

This is what an Abrams tank can do to an automobile:

Imagine what an Abrams tank could do to a Marine. Gruesome, eh? But maybe you don’t know Marines like we did in Navy Medicine. Maybe you never met our Tank.

Tank arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD in the very first wave of injured Marines from Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003. Tank was not his real name, but it’s how we came to know him, and how we introduced him to the CommanderinChief when he visited his wounded Marines. Among the early American heroes from that conflict, Tank epitomized the toughness and resiliency of the men who had gone into harm’s way.

We named our poster Marine  after the U.S. combat vehicle that caused his injury. During a short break from sustained operations, Tank dozed against a mound of warm Iraqi sand. By design, his desert camouflage uniform blended into the terrain. The driver of the maneuvering vehicle never saw his comrade in arms. As one track of the Abrams ran over Tank’s body at pelvic level, the sand absorbed enough of the crush that he sustained only reparable injuries, a fractured pelvis and ruptured bowel.

Thanks to emergency surgery on the battlefield and in forward deployed hospitals, Tank survived the initial trauma. Just a few days after the mishap, he arrived at Bethesda with a repaired bowel and temporary colostomy, bedridden from the fractured pelvis.  Physically and emotionally, he remained in combat. 

This indomitable Marine did not wallow in his rack. He soon overcame the restriction to bed, got up on crutches, and made daily rounds on the ward where about 30 wounded Marines recovered from a variety of injuries. “Oo-rah, Marine,” he would say. “Look at me. If I can survive, and walk, so can you!”

In the nearly ten years since Tank returned from the battlefield, thousands of Marines and soldiers did survive their wounds, and got on with their post-traumatic lives attacking their disabilities with the same spirit as they did the enemy at arms. 

Military medicine rightly touts the advanced trauma care and sophisticated technology that have resulted in the best survival rates of any modern war. In truth, those are just adjuncts to the primary healing force we saw on that ward: Tank and other Marines who refused to quit, refused to consider themselves disabled, and rallied each other to health.

I recall another recovering young Marine’s immediate response when asked where he wanted to go for convalescent leave upon discharge from acute care in the late spring of 2003:


Semper Fi, Marines!