I took a special trip last week to the Wounded Warrior barracks here at Camp Lejeune with the intent to sketch some of their wounded. While over there, I have had the honor of meeting two extraordinary Marines, Sgt. Naing & Sgt. Printz. Since then, quality time was spent with the two of them---sketching, taking pictures, and listening to their tragic, yet amazing tales of survival while in combat.
Without further ado, let me present to you:
Sergeant Than Naing of Wounded Warrior Battalion, East.
"...The round hit here, broke three ribs, went through my spleen, and out my lower back..."
This was said by Sgt. Naing after he took off his shirt to show me the multiple gunshot wounds that he received while fighting in both Ramadi, Iraq (2006) and Marjah, Afghanistan (2010).
Sgt. Naing was born in Rangoon, Burma in 1976. While attending Rangoon University in the mid 1990's, he received a Green Card to come to the United States through the U.S. State Dept's Lottery system. Upon immigrating to the United States in 1997, Sgt. Naing settled in New York City where took up work in the food service industry and attended the City College of New York part-time. One week after the September 11th attacks, he rushed over to the local Marine Corps recruiting office to enlist, but was unable to pass the ASVAB (entrance exam) due to his poor english. He past the test three years later and Sgt. Naing was finally able to enlist. He joined the Marine Corps infantry.
He was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq (2005) shortly after checking into his first duty station, C.co 1st Battalion 6th, Marine Regiment. Subsequently, he redeployed to Ramadi, Iraq where he served as a turret gunner. On October 19, 2006, then Lance Corporal Naing suffered a gunshot wound to the left shoulder by an insurgent sniper.
"I heard the gunshot. I remember how bad it hurt, kind of like getting hit really hard with a baseball bat. I was bleeding everywhere, and I remember hunching down from the turret and telling my Team Leader that I've been shot. The driver immediately turned the vehicle around and drove back to OP Hawk"
After spending time at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, he arrived back in Camp Lejeune, NC and was assigned to Wounded Warrior Battalion, East. While recovering from his injury, Sgt. Naing applied and became a citizen of the United States. Morever, he made his intentions known to his leadership that he wanted to reenlist and be placed on full duty. He reenlisted and was found fit for duty in 2008, and in May 2009, he was assigned to I co. 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment as a Squad Leader.
In early 2010, his unit deployed to Afghanistan and spearheaded the bloody battle of Marjah. On June 13, 2010, while leading his squad through a complex ambush, Sgt. Naing was shot by a burst of machine gun fire.
"We were at an intersection by the school house providing security for a SNAP VCP (vehicle checkpoint), and all of a sudden we started to take gunfire. There were these holes in the walls where the Taliban would shoot from. When I went to check the parimeter, I saw a black object [weapon] poke out of one of those holes, and it opened fired on me. I went into the prone position and got on the radio to call in a POSREP. At that time, one of my Marine's took rounds to both forearms. Immediately after that, I was hit in the chest."
"We were pinned down with very little cover. Another squad just 500 meters away took over the medical evacuation. I remember being dragged through a ditch and worked on in waist-deep water because it was the only place that provided any real cover. The pain was unbearable, I started to see black and blue, and was feeling real woozy. I reached for my weapon, but my motor skills were ineffective. I screamed and screamed and continued to scream just for the sake of staying alive. I thought I was going to die."
Sgt. Naing was sent to Germany, and then back to Bethesda, MD for treatment. He suffered three broken ribs and significant damage to his stomach and spleen. Today, Sgt. Naing is still recovering. When he takes deep breaths, his ribs click, but nonetheless, he is alive and well, and is currently striving to get back to full duty, reenlist, and redeploy.
For his bravery under fire, Sgt, Naing was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal with combat distiguishing device (for valor).
God bless him.
This sketch was done at a much later time.
Sgt. Naing points to where the enemy round had struck his rear SAPI after entering his chest and out his back during a firefight in Marjah, Afghanistan.
For more on Sgt. Naing, read this article written by Maj. Paul Greenberg, Executive Officer of Wounded Warrior Battalion, East. My sketch is the feature photograph in the article!
Last but not least, welcome:
Sergeant Daniel Printz of Wounded Warrior Battalion, East.
"The blast was huge. The whole truck was on fire and I hardly recollect getting out. I remember being in so much pain, but when I saw that Marines were still in the burning HMMWV, adrenaline sorta kicked in...so I went in after them."
Sgt. Printz candidly recalled the fateful day where his truck was destroyed by an Improvised Explosive Device while conducting convoy operations in Iraq.
Sgt. Printz enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005. He deployed two years later as a vehicle operater with the 2D Marine Logistics Group. Life would change on March 22, 2007, however, as he and his gunner would survive a close call with death. His vehicle commander wasn't so lucky.
For Sgt. Printz's actions that day, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat distinguishing device (for valor).
I'll let the citation speak on his behalf:
"For heroic achievement in the superior performance of his duties while serving as vehicle operator, security company, 2D Marine Logistics Group Forward. II Marine Expeditionary Force (forward) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08. On 22 March 2007, while conducting a combat logistics patrol to the city of Fallujah, Lance Corporal Printz's vehicle was attacked by an improvised explosive device, destroying the vehicle, wounding the gunner, and mortally wounding the vehicle commander. After the explosion, he dragged the wounded gunner to safety and extinguished the flames on his clothing. A secondary improvised explosive device detonated and small arms ammunition exploded in the burning vehicle and without regard for his own safety, he returned to the downed vehicle attempting to extract the vehicle commander. His unwavering and selfless courage in the face of overwhelming danger allowed the remainder of the Marines to search for secondary improvised explosive devices and a possible triggerman, as well as provide security on the site. Lance Corporal Printz's initiative, perserverance, and total dedication to duty reflected credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and United States Naval Service."
Despite his visible handicap from the blast, Sgt. Printz was never awarded a Purple Heart medal. He was classified as having a grade 3 concussion and remembers vividly having been knocked out for a short period of time. What's more, Sgt. Printz was medically evacuated from the site.
To this day, Sgt. Printz suffers from Tramatic Brain Injury (TBI), damage to his back and leg, impaired vision (due to his TBI), and slight memory loss. He is about to medically retire in a few months, and is still fighting for a Purple Heart.
I wish you the best of luck.
I would like to thank Mike Fay (combat artist), and Major Greenberg, the Executive Officer of Wounded Warrior Battalion, East for making this possible.
Disclaimer: Both Marines interviewed provided verbal consent regarding the posting of this content.