Lisa Jennison says if she could trade places with her son, Lance Cpl. Tommy Parker, who lost his legs an a hand in an IED blast, she'd do it "in a heartbeat."
When the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines ended its eight-month tour in Afghanistan earlier this year, it came home to Camp Pendleton with an unenviable record. The unit had suffered the highest casualties of the Afghan war to date: 25 Marines had died and more than 150 were wounded — many forced to undergo double and triple amputations.
One of those welcoming the battalion home that day was Mark Soto, a high school football coach from Granite Bay, Calif., and the father of a Marine. When he heard about the challenges facing the wounded warriors, he decided to do something about it.
The need for action began with gratitude for Soto, that feeling of "there but for the grace of God." His son had escaped injury and returned whole from one of the bloodiest tours in Afghanistan. Other young men in his son's battalion had not been so lucky.
"The average age [of the Marines] is 20 years old," Soto says. "So these were kids [whom] two years ago ... I was coaching. I wanted to get the story out there."
With a borrowed camera and his assistant coach-turned-cinematographer, Soto spent time with some of the Marines and their families. The result is a documentary called The Day Remembered.
The Dreaded Phone Call
"I went up in the air and then I realized — whoa, my number got called, this really happened to me, and it's kind of overwhelming," 21-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Tommy Parker says in the documentary.
Seven months ago, Parker's mother, Lisa Jennison, left her two younger children with relatives in Montana to care for her son in San Diego.
"It's the worst phone call a mother or parent could ever get," Jennison says, "that their son stepped on an IED and has no legs, only has one hand."
Parker looks at his mother and runs his hand through his short cropped hair. This has not been easy for either of them.
Sgt. Charlie Linville is being treated at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, where many of his unit's wounded are being treated. An IED explosion left him with two amputated fingers and a crushed foot.
"Losing your legs is kind of like becoming a little kid again. I have to learn how to walk. I have to learn how to go to the bathroom," Parker says. "On top of all that, I was left-handed, and now not having my left hand, I have to learn to do everything right-handed."
As an explosive specialist in Afghanistan, it was Sgt. Charlie Linville's job to disarm IEDs.
Linville, another Marine in the film, is now at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, where many of the battalion's wounded are being treated. An IED explosion left him with two amputated fingers and a crushed foot. But the 25-year-old father of two insists he's one of the lucky ones.
"Knowing that I have both of my lower extremities ... I consider myself lucky every day," he says.
Although it's painful for him to walk, Linville makes his rounds of the therapy rooms each day, offering encouragement. Today he spots another Marine from the unit. He's in a wheelchair and rail-thin, missing both legs and an arm.
"You ever want a home-cooked meal, call," Linville tells the Marine. "Either I'll bring it down to you or you come down."
Linville knows the struggles ahead for these young men.
"Some of the injuries these guys have at 19 years old — I don't think there are a lot of people willing to go through that journey or even make that sacrifice," he says.
Thankful To Be Alive
Soto hopes his documentary will make people more aware of those sacrifices. Money generated by the DVD will be donated to help these wounded warriors.
"There are lapses that need to be taken care of, bills that aren't paid, a car that may need to be bigger," Soto says.
Back at their home, Jennison and Parker navigate the before and after of their lives. Parker has at least another 18 months of rehabilitation, including more surgeries.
"I'm still alive and I'm still able to do stuff, live life," Parker says. "I can play video games, go out with the guys. I mean, there's really nothing I can't do."
But as a mother, Jennison knows there will still be challenges along the way.
"I told him since day one if I could trade places with him, I'd do it in a heartbeat," she says. "I'm just thankful he's still with me. I love him with all my heart."