(Reprint from TheRockyMountainNews.com, January 16, 2004)
Parachuting beyond injury
Marine jumper whose foot was blown off returns to active duty
Sgt. Christopher T. Chandler is one tough Marine, even by Marine standards.
The 23-year-old Aurora resident will report back to duty in Camp Pendleton, Calif., today, more than two years after his left foot was blown off while serving in Afghanistan.
Rather than accept his Purple Heart and a discharge, Chandler chose to regain his strength and return to active duty. And not just to staff a desk somewhere. He recently graduated from parachute jump school in Fort Bragg, N.C.
"As far as I know, he may be the only person to complete jump school with a prosthetic leg," said Capt. Nat Fahy, with the Marine Public Affairs Office at the Pentagon. "I'm not aware of any others, and if there were any, I expect we would have heard about it."
Chandler could not be reached for comment. His parents, who live in Centennial, declined comment.
Chandler joined the Marines at 17, just after graduating from Gateway High School in June 1998. He was part of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division and assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit for the the invasion of Afghanistan.
On Dec. 16, 2001, while on patrol, Chandler stepped on a land mine outside Kandahar International Airport, losing his left foot above the ankle and severely injuring his left hand.
In a February 2002 interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Chandler said the first thing he recalled after the explosion was that things moved in a dreamlike, slow motion, and he saw one of his buddies, Sgt. Adrian Aranda, facedown in the dirt.
Chandler said he tried to stand but couldn't and when he realized he'd lost his left foot in the explosion, he crawled toward Aranda.
"I was the team leader, and I felt like I let everyone down," Chandler said.
It took an hour for other Marines to clear a path to the wounded Chandler, Aranda and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Sovereign. All eventually recovered from their injuries.
Through several surgeries and months of painful physical therapy and rehabilitation at military hospitals, Chandler vowed to return to active duty and continue serving his country.
Marine Corps officials said they would take up the issue later.
"I don't want a desk job," Chandler said. "I couldn't handle it. Eventually I'll go back to college, and then I'll lead a boring life."
Chandler's girlfriend, Jacquelyn Flynn, predicted in an earlier interview with the News that he wouldn't let his injuries get the better of him.
"He's selfless and humble," Flynn said. "He thinks more of others than he does about himself. Even though this happened, he won't give up on life and on enjoying life."
Lt. Rob Shufort, public affairs officer at Camp Pendleton, said Chandler will be rejoining his old unit, the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.