Cpl Paul Gardner, USMC

Hometown: Sugarland, TX

Like most Marine Infantrymen, I knew in my teens that when I was old enough I wanted to join the US Marine Corps and go kill the bad guys in this world. I left for boot camp just months after 9/11 took place, in December 2001. I couldn’t wait to deploy to Afghanistan and wanted nothing more than to get payback on those who planned and helped carry out the attacks on my homeland. However, by the time I got through boot camp, the School of Infantry and got to my unit (2nd Battalion, 5th Marines) in the Fleet Marine Force, our nation’s crosshairs were centered on Iraq instead, so we began training for a war against Saddam Hussein’s army. I was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003 and was at the tip of the spear with Regimental Combat Team 5 during the invasion of Iraq in March.

On April 12, 2003, just a few days after we’d taken the capital city of Baghdad, Iraq, my platoon was tasked with securing a route through the city of Al Tarmiyah. Once there we were ambushed by more than 100 insurgents. In the hellacious firefight that ensued, I was separated from my squad and linked up with another squad in my platoon and began helping them clear out a house. Before I could make entry into the house though, the insurgents fled into the backyard into a small bunker to make their final stand. After engaging several of the fighters around the bunker I had to reload my M16 assault rifle. As I was doing so, an insurgent I’d already shot had gotten back up and aimed his rifle at my chest. After I reloaded my own weapon I looked back up to see the man I’d just shot now aiming his AK47 at me. I tried to quickly get my gun up and kill him, but before I could get off a shot I saw the muzzle flash erupting from the barrel of his rifle as he fired a burst of rounds at me.

I was hit once in the chest, under my left armpit where there is no armor protection. The bullet tore through my spleen (which had to later be removed), punctured my left lung, lacerated my stomach and left kidney, blew out a chunk of my vertebrae and completely severed my spinal cord at the T-12 level, instantly paralyzing me from the waist down.

As bad as my injuries were, I came out a lot better than my adversary. He was quickly cut down in a hail of rifle fire and 40mm high explosive grenades fired by my fellow Marines. My brothers got me out of there and a Navy Corpsman tended to my wounds while waiting for the MEDEVAC helicopter to arrive. I was 100% sure that I would die. So when I awoke a week and a half later at Bethesda Naval hospital in Maryland and saw my mother and father by my bedside, it was the biggest surprise of my life. Although I was a paraplegic, I was a live. And that was pretty damn awesome.

Although my initial rehab and therapy was only a few months, I’ve spent a total of 2 and a half years of my life in the VA hospital, mainly from pressure sores and infections as a result of those sores. I’ve had more than 20 surgeries altogether. But through everything, I’ve been able to get through it, push forward and drive onward. I learned in the Marine Corps that I can get through anything and that nothing can beat me, and it’s served me very well.

My biggest passion in life is shooting and training alongside other military and law enforcement personnel and likeminded civilians. It’s about the closest thing I can do to the Marine Corps Infantry, and I eat it up. I’m also very passionate about telling my story to those currently serving abroad in the military or here at home in a law enforcement capacity. I’ll go over how I was wounded and the mistakes I made, so that they can learn from it all and more effectively take the fight to our nation’s enemies and kill the bad guys and come home safe to their loved ones afterwards.

I’m hoping to one day work with others with disabilities on how to effectively fight and defend themselves with a gun so that they are empowered and don’t become targets or easy prey for the evil criminals that unfortunately exist in our world. For now though I’ve got plenty of work to do on my own skills before I get into any instructing. I just really enjoy being around firearms and the training industry and the people that go along with them.

Semper Fi,
Paul Gardner