Skip to content

To Iraq and Back: One injured Marine adapts to a “new normal” in a post 9/11 world.

September 13, 2011
Justin Constantine and wife, Dahlia. Photo provided by JMU. 

With a single pull of a sniper’s trigger, Marine Justin Constantine’s life was forever changed.  Justin was shot on Oct. 18, 2006, six weeks after being deployed to Iraq. Thanks to his fellow Marines and the courage and skills of a U.S. Navy corpsman, Justin survived.  The Semper Fi Fund was honored to assist his girlfriend, Dahlia, with travel  so that she could be at his side throughout his recovery.  They have since married!  Now, nearly 10 years after 9/11 and five years after his injury, Justin has adapted to a “new normal,” and he and Dahlia are working to help others do the same.

Justin Constantine, a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, has been awarded a Purple Heart Medal.   He is a fellow with the Truman National Security Project and also serves on a Congressionally-mandated Task Force for Wounded Warriors.

When asked about his recovery, Justin says “Although I can play golf and exercise and have successfully adapted to my “new normal;” the personal costs are significant and long-lasting. It has been five years since I was shot, and I cannot see out of my left eye, cannot always speak clearly, have difficulty running due to the missing bones in my legs, and periodically struggle with behavioral health issues, including not only PTSD but mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).”  Read more about Justin’s recovery here.

“However, I am only one wounded warrior, and there are almost 44,000 just like me from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. That means 44,000 families uprooted with lives turned upside down and 44,000 warriors who will spend years reintegrating into society and adapting to their new normal.”

This realization prompted Justin to turn his injury into something positive, and to use what he has learned to help other wounded warriors.   See his website,  To Iraq and Back, to learn how he began providing motivating t-shirts to our wounded warriors and their families while donating a portion of the proceeds to organizations like The Semper Fi Fund  who support and assist today’s American warriors.

With the anniversary of 9/11 upon us, Justin looks back and remembers the price paid by our wounded warriors, their families, and the relatives of those who sacrificed their lives in defense of our country.    He has found a sense of purpose in helping others find hope.

As we look back on 9/11, let us follow Justin’s lead.  We too can find ways to remember and honor those who have served our country so that other injured heroes can look forward with hope and their own sense of purpose.  Join us as we serve those who have sacrificed so much in the name of our freedom! 

Here’s how you can help: 

1. Learn more about Justin Constantine’s inspiring story.  

2. Read about other injured Heroes in the News and share their stories on Facebook and Twitter

3.  Get involved in a Community Semper Fi Event, or host your own!

4. Help us honor all those who have served since 911 by Donating Now


Injured Marine and Team Semper Fi member, Brandon Pelletier, catches the eye of United States Olympic Committee.

August 18, 2011

Team Semper Fi member Brandon Pelletier

“Man, that kid is fast!”    While racing at the recent Warrior Games in May 2011, Marine Lance Corporal Brandon Pelletier caught the eye of members of the United States Olympic Committee.     Brandon’s participation in Team Semper Fi, Semper Fi Fund’s “Recovery Through Sport” program,  has allowed him the opportunity to train at an Olympic Training Center and compete with world class athletes.

Meet Brandon Pelletier:   He graduated boot camp during the summer of 2006, joined  3/23 Weapons Company based out of Austin, Texas, and deployed to Iraq in April 2007 as a Heavy Machine Gunner.  Brandon was injured during a night operation in the Al Anbar Province on Oct. 17, 2007.   His right arm was crushed at the elbow.   After several years of evaluations and multiple surgeries, Brandon has no feeling and is still unable to move it, though he is hopeful that he will be able to keep his arm.  Read more about Brandon’s recovery here.

LCpl Pelletier

This trial has not kept Brandon down.   His determination and passion for running led him to become a member of Team Semper Fi where he attended a triathlon camp.    This opportunity opened a door for his future that he had never thought possible.   After competing in the Warrior Games  this past May, Brandon was offered the opportunity to train at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista Ca.   So began Brandon’s journey to make the track team for the 2012 London Games!

Brandon Pelletier left this week for the Czech Republic to compete in his first international meet.   We are told that Brandon “continues to train hard and shave huge chunks off his race times.”   We celebrate these successes with Brandon and look forward to cheering him on later this week at the Czech Open Championships!  Stay tuned for updates via Facebook and Twitter!

Learn more about Team Semper Fi’s  participation in this and other events and how “Recovery Through Sport” is opening doors of opportunity for other injured heroes;  encouraging them to embrace a fighting, athletic spirit on their road to recovery.

There are other injured heroes, like Brandon, who are in need of the inspiration, opportunity and confidence that Team Semper Fi provides.    The Semper Fi Fund intends to meet this need.

Here’s how you can help us continue serving those who have sacrificed so much in the name of our freedom:

1.  Share Brandon’s story with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter!

2.  Donate Now  to “open doors” for injured heroes like Brandon who are also on the road to recovery!

The Ride for Semper Fi: Honoring heroes lost; Supporting our injured and those continuing to bravely serve in our military

August 6, 2011

Ride for Semper Fi

They train on the desert roads of Arizona as they prepare each year to make the 430 mile journey to San Diego.  Over the last three years the Ride for Semper Fi team has contributed more than $500,000 dollars to assist the Semper Fi Fund in its mission to improve the lives of those who have sacrificed and suffered injuries while serving our great country.  We recently interviewed John Greenway, the Ride for Semper Fi Chairman, to find out what makes this team so special:

1.  Tell us how the Ride for Semper Fi began.  The Ride for Semper Fi began in 2007 when I was asked to attend the boot camp graduation for my nephew LcCpl Jeff Turnage at MCRD in San Diego California.  I almost didn’t go.  I thought I was too busy.   Had I not been convinced to attend I would have missed what has been one of the greatest opportunities of my life time.  I realize now that many times we can let the background noise of life interfere with the call of adventure and inspiration.

2.   You have said that you want to provide hope for our injured heroes.   Tell us how the Ride for Semper Fi accomplishes this mission.

Each year we ride in honor of heroes who have been lost in battle.  By paying tribute to those who are no longer with us we keep their memories alive and honor them by assisting those who were injured and still in need.

We also take team Semper Fi injured athletes with us on the journey.  This accomplishes two things.  First, it gives these injured heroes a chance to see that Americans truly care about them and are behind them.    Plus, the other riders get an up-close experience with those who have sacrificed.  They see touch and  feel how their efforts are helping others. 

For those who are injured we have found that the athletic challenge of riding 430 miles to San Diego shows them that their life has not ended with the injury.   They face difficulties on our trip and it is extremely difficult physically.  Just as in life, what they find at the end is that they climb the mountains…they go through the valleys and, with the help of those who care for them, they cross the finish line successfully.  The experience of finishing creates hope….hope breeds determination….determination leads to accomplishment…accomplishment leads to healing – that is our mission!

Our deepest gratitude to John, for sharing his experience and words of wisdom!  Want to learn more about The Ride for Semper Fi?  Here’s how:

1.  Subscribe to our blog and be notified when we post part II of our interview with The Ride for Semper Fi chairman, John Greenway. 

2.  Learn more about The Ride for Semper Fi on their website and Facebook pages.

3.  Read inspirational stories about Ride for Semper Fi team members as they continue to train for the 430 mile ride coming up October 12th, 2011! 

Semper Fi Fund surpasses $50 million in assistance with over 31,000 grants to Injured and Ill Military

June 29, 2011

This historic achievement in the life of the Semper Fi Fund is truly proof of the love our country has for our Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen!  You have made it possible for the Semper Fi Fund to assist over 6,000 service members with 31,000 grants totaling over $50,000.000!

HM3 James Raffetto

It is with deep appreciation for you, our supporters, that we have been able to assist service members like HM3 James Raffetto, who has an infectious passion for the Navy, the Marines, and his family.   James worked with the Marines of 1st Recon out of California and bravely supported his Marine unit in Afghanistan until he was injured himself.   In August 2010, an IED blast caused injuries that resulted in the amputation of both of his legs above the knee, the amputation of his left arm at the elbow, and the amputation of three fingers on his remaining right hand.

James Raffetto - Skydiving

Now, not even a year since his injury, James is standing tall on his C-Legs, his newest prosthetics. They allow him to stand beside his friends, family and wife, Emily.   We celebrate with James as he continues to embrace life;  he and Emily recently celebrated their first anniversary, and James is pictured here while sky-diving!  What an inspiration for others facing life changing injuries to continue challenging themselves to greater “heights!”

We read that many Americans have grown weary of war; that’s okay, as NO institution is wearier of war than the American military. NO young warrior looks forward to multiple, back-to-back deployments to combat; however,  young warriors like Raffetto continue to go forward to do our nation’s bidding.

An incredible number of these heroes are returning with catastrophic wounds.    You may be surprised to learn that some of our critically injured heroes have been hospitalized for over a year now.   It is clear that these injured heroes will continue to require our assistance for years to come. 

In order to meet this challenge,  we will rely on you, our Semper Fi Fund Family, to keep spreading the word.  You can help us help those, like HM3 James Raffetto, who have sacrificed so much in the name of freedom.  Here’s how: 

1. Participate, host or support others in Events.

2. Become informed about the kinds of Assistance we offer.

3. Be inspired by reading the latest on our Heroes page and Newsletter.

4. Increase awareness by sharing us with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

5.  Be a Hero for a Hero and Donate Now!

First Veteran to hold Ms. Wheelchair California title promotes Team Semper Fi – “Recovery through Sport” with Semper Fi Fund

June 15, 2011

Meet Corey Petersen, retired Marine Staff Sergeant,   Semper Fi Fund Community Outreach Coordinator, and a member of  Team Semper Fi, the “Recovery Through Sports” program of the Semper Fi Fund .  Corey was recently selected as Ms. Wheelchair California-2011.  Corey is the first Veteran to hold the title of Ms. Wheelchair California, and also claimed the title of  Ms. Congeniality!

Ms. Wheelchair California, 2011

Corey is not new to competition.  She has won Gold Medals at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games 2010 in Javelin, Shot put and bowling, and took home the Silver in handcycling.  Corey was the first female to compete in the wheelchair division of the San Diego Rock-N-Roll Marathon, finishing in 2:32.  She was also the 3rd female to finish in the wheel chair division of the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon.

In a recent interview, we discovered that Corey’s approach to life has been key in her recovery and accomplishments.  Up close and personal with Corey Petersen:

Corey,  we are so proud of your accomplishments and want others to benefit from your experience and wisdom.

1.   You really encompass the true spirit of  Team Semper Fi.     Tell us who or what inspired you to embrace that fighting, athletic spirit to assist in your recovery?  Hmmm…I would love to say I had it prior to my injury.  I joined the Marine Corps because it was the hardest physically.  I want challenges in my life. Although this is a challenge I wouldn’t have normally wanted to face, I’ve tried to approach it that way.  Maybe it was the fact I had AMAZING support from my husband Brad,  my sister,  and my best friends Jessie and Morgan.   I also had an incredible physical therapist that never babied me.  That’s how I am able to be where I am today…independent and strong as I possibly can and never forgetting how lucky I am to have  what I have…that others out there have it worse.  I never forget that.

2.  What was the most difficult challenge you faced during your own recovery process and how did you overcome that challenge? I think it was harder for me to realize that I had to give up being an active duty Marine than [to give up] walking.  I had a set life plan in my head…but that wasn’t going to happen.  I got through it because of the Semper Fi Fund.  They gave me another purpose in life.  I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them. Yes they helped make our house accessible and helped in  other ways, BUT mainly they gave me a job and something to care about.  They gave me a purpose, I love the fund, I love our mission, I love the people I work for and with, I love being able to help those that are going through what I have been through and I love the sports I get to do.  I am extremely lucky to have the fund in my life.  I owe them SO much.

3.  You have shown that you won’t let your injury hold you back from living life to the fullest.   What words of wisdom or encouragement do you have for others facing recovery from their own life changing injuries?  I think I would say that it does get better, there are ways to be independent, there are ways to stay active, there are ways to get a purpose back in your life.  Be grateful for what you have cause there are others out there that have it worse.  Get on with life and get involved in the amazing sports that Team Semper Fi  can provide.  The events are fun and you will meet others that have been through similar obstacles, have overcome them and regained the confidence to find a new purpose in life. 

My favorite saying is that “you can let the disability rule your life, get depressed and stay in bed,  but that would be so boring and just seems like a major waste of time, so GETUP and GET ON WITH IT!”

We appreciate you, Corey, for sharing your fighting spirit with others and for continuing to spread the word about the benefits of sports for rehabilitation.  You are an inspiration to   Team Semper Fi  members, Veterans, and others with disabilities.    We wish you all the best during  your reign as Ms Wheelchair California and look forward to cheering you on in your future endeavors!

Find out more about Team Semper Fi, and how you can get involved in “Recovery Through Sport” with the Semper Fi Fund. 

See more pictures and video of Corey. 

2011 Warrior Games – Competition with other Military Service Members gives an injured Marine his life back!

June 1, 2011

Warrior Games - 2011

On Armed Forces Day and after a week of intense competition, the Marine Corps was deemed the top overall performing branch and claimed the 2011 Chairman’s Cup for the second year in a row!

Congratulations to all the competitors; every participant took something home this week, but as for Joshua Wege of the Marines, he got his life back.

Wege reflected on the week saying, “It was great to get back into team sports. I was active in sports before I was injured and this opportunity has been so important to my family and me.  I knew if I could accomplish this I was going to be okay.”   Teammate Disbro echoed his positive remarks saying, “Everyone leaves here with confidence and goals, that’s what this week is really about.”

Sgt Lee Randles

Congratulations to all the Team Semper Fi  members who participated in the Warrior Games!  TSFmember Sgt. Lee Randles competed in the recent Warrior Games in track and field and swimming events.  Randles encourages his teammates with this advice:  “Life is only as good as you make it. Work hard and don’t quit.”    Read more  about Sgt Lee Randles and his inspiring story.





2011 Chairman’s Cup Final Standings

Marine Corps        73     131.4
Navy/Coast Guard        23      59.8
Air Force        12      43.2
Army        41      41
Special Operations         4      18

2011 Ultimate Champion Final Standings

Jonathan Disbro Marine Corps        16
Jeffrey Martin Marine Corps          9
Aaron Heldreth            Navy          7
Kenny Griffith            Army          6
Cogen Nelson Marine Corps          6
John Edmonston            Navy          4
Robert Laux            Army          4
Matthew Bilancia       Air Force          3
Landon Ranker            Army          3
Juan Guerrero            Army          2

Family honors the life of a World War II Army Air Corps Veteran with a Memorial Day Donation to the Semper Fi Fund

May 28, 2011

Robert and Tweetie Schwefel

Honoring a Veteran:

Robert Schwefel served our country honorably in World War II as a Army Air Corps Sergeant.  He met his beautiful bride, Tweetie,  while stationed in Greenville, South Carolina, for pre-war training.  They were soon married and after Robert’s departure for the Indian Ocean, Tweetie gave birth to twin girls.  A WWII War Bond penny postcard delivered the good news to the new father.   After  the war, the Schwefel’s did what so many “Greatest Generation” families did — they worked hard, raised their family, saved for the future and passed on their love and dedication for our country to family and friends.

Robert and Tweetie were married for 51 amazing years.  Sadly, in 1996, Robert passed away and then this past November, Tweetie followed him at the age of 98. They left behind three loving daughters who carry on their parent’s memory and love for our country.

Honoring our Heroes:

The Schwefel family has chosen to honor the memory of Tweetie and Robert this Memorial Day by giving a generous gift from their estate to the Semper Fi Fund. The donation will go to help those who have given so much in the name of freedom.

This Memorial Day, we honor and thank Robert and Tweetie and their family for remembering all those who serve and for making sure our nation’s heroes are cared for in their time of need.

Would you like to share with us the story of a special Veteran in your life?   Please post your story here on our Blog, Facebook or Twitter!