MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – -- MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The rigorous, realistic training conducted by Marines not only prepares them to answer the Nation’s call, but also creates life-long bonds as they train and fight side-by-side. These bonds are what inspire courageous acts, unimaginable feats and ultimately the ability to overcome obstacles.
Right out of the gate, one Marine's dedication to his unit and Marines would prove his resiliency and perseverance to overcome any challenge, despite the odds.
During the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s first exercise of the 2017-2018 deployment, Capt. Patrick Nugent, the executive officer of Company C., Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 15th MEU was severely injured while his platoon was conducting live-fire marksmanship training at the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA), on the Island of Hawai’i, July 12, 2017.
Amidst the firing and maneuvers during the range, a bullet ricocheted, striking Nugent in the lower back. Immediately upon impact, the company’s platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Shane Newby sprinted to Nugent to provide medical aid.
“My first reaction was to get to him as quickly as possible and to get him the treatment he required,” said Newby.
Instrumental in saving Nugent’s life were Petty Officers 3rd Class Andrew Fonticiella and Beau Yavor, both hospital corpsmen with BLT 1/5.
“I was co-located with Staff Sgt. Newby as the safety corpsman for this range,” explained Petty Officer 3rd Class Fonticiella. “My first impression when arriving was the severity of the incident. We train countless hours for a moment like this and all the training and preparation we do as corpsmen come flooding back to you in a moment and the training really takes over as muscle memory. I knew exactly what to do the moment that call came over the radio.”
From a support-by-fire position where he was well over 100 meters away with multiple hills between him and the casualty, without being ordered or prompted, and unsure exactly where the casualty was located, Yavor sprinted down range and began taking off his medical bag preparing to render aid to Capt. Nugent.
Yavor was the second corpsman on scene, the first corpsman, Fonticiella had already began initial treatment by packing the bullet wound with combat gauze and applying an H-bandage.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Yavor took over as the senior corpsman and continued treating Nugent which enabled Staff Sgt. Newby to call in the casualty evacuation nine-line.
From his initial life-saving actions at the scene and throughout the entire tenure of Nugent’s initial treatments at the hospital, Yavor remained with the patient for more than 36 hours ensuring each new set of nurses or surgeons understood the comprehensive picture of Capt. Nugent’s medical status.
“The only thing I remember thinking after the fact was how thankful I was for who I have to work with, both Marine and Corpsmen alike,” explained Yavor. “I arrived on scene to find Fonticiella had already packaged the wound and was searching for any possible exit wounds. He and I were able to work together with no friction or hesitation in our delivery of care thanks to our training. What saved him was surgery.
The only reason he received it in time was because of the immediate response of our company leadership activating our casualty evacuation plan as well as the flying of the pilots that picked us up, who had to land on an unlit hospital landing zone at night in an urban setting.”
Following several surgeries to stabilize his condition, Capt. Nugent awakened and was able to recall this traumatic event.
“It was only the fifth day of our deployment, and I had to leave [the Marines],” said Nugent. “I hated knowing I had to leave my Marines and the company.”
The company staff and officers were affected by Nugent’s absence. After months of training and preparing for deployment, not having the company whole would be a major hurdle to overcome.
“It was hard to leave Capt. Nugent behind,” said Newby. “He is a huge asset to the company and we all knew there would be a giant gap that would have to be filled in his absence.”
Nugent’s initial prognosis was less than favorable as the incident had caused severe internal injuries to his leg and doctors at the time predicted he would be unable to walk again. Consequently he was transferred to Tripler Army Medical Center where he would undergo further surgeries.
“When I first woke up, I was thinking the worst,” Nugent said. “I thought I was paralyzed. As I talked to the doctors and began regaining the feeling in both my legs, they were able to diagnose me with suffering only nerve damage.”
Nugent was fortunate to then be transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he received the final surgeries and nerve reconstruction surgery.
“I received thirteen major surgeries and following every surgery I would have minor setbacks to my recovery each time,” said Nugent.
Following the major surgeries, Nugent made progress towards walking again, first walking with a cane to walking by himself with minimal assistance.
“Observing Patrick during this period was incredibly inspiring,” said Lt. Col. Brendan Sullivan, BLT 1/5 commanding officer. “[One of his] first thoughts upon regaining consciousness in the hospital was about the well-being of his Marines who were still in the training area. He had made arrangements for them to receive a special meal at the conclusion of training. His first question upon waking up was to ask about this meal and if all of the final coordination had been made in spite of his injury.”
Unfortunately, despite his incredible resolve and selflessness, Nugent hit another setback when he went back for his nerve reconstruction surgery.
“I was back to a wheelchair for a month after the surgery,” said Nugent.
With Nugent’s quick recovery from his prior surgeries and success, his next obstacle was the slow process of physical therapy, but he was hopeful to return to the MEU and back to his company.
“When Lt. Col. Sullivan visited me in the hospital, he mentioned to me about returning back to the company during some point in the deployment,” said Nugent.
With the possibility of returning to his Marines, Nugent was motivated more than ever to meet the requirements to be medically cleared to return to his company.
“The hope of linking back up with my Marines as they returned home from the deployment was what motivated me through all my hard times while in the hospital and during physical therapy,” said Nugent.
Nugent underwent the last of his surgeries in mid-December 2017. His doctors informed him that if he was healthy enough and able to walk on his own, he would be medically cleared to return to his unit and join his company on their way home.
“I was ecstatic when doctors approved me to go back on the deployment and to finish it with my company,” Nugent said. “It was important for me to come back to the unit because I left them in a bad situation. The last time they saw me, I was getting loaded onto a helicopter, and now for them to see me recovering six months later and coming home with them to California was huge.”
The company staff and officers had been in contact and tracking Nugent’s progress throughout the months through emails and phone calls, some even carrying around a life-size cut out of Nugent throughout the deployment on different exercises and port visits; needless to say they were thrilled when they received the news of his return to the company for the voyage home.
“He never showed any weakness or anything other than total resolve as the extent of his injuries became known,” said Sullivan. “It is odd because it should be the other way around, but he was a huge source of strength to those around him during this difficult time.”
Nugent is ecstatic to be back with his company but knows he still not fully recovered and he still has many obstacles to overcome and hard work ahead of him before being back to one hundred percent.
“Seeing him walk on board USS America (LHA 6) was one of the most incredible things I have observed in my career,” said Sullivan. “Through strength of will and character, this young man had overcome many obstacles, some which seemed insurmountable. I was incredibly proud of him. More importantly, I felt so fortunate to have an officer in BLT 1/5 who was an unmistakable and living example of how Marines respond to adversity.”