I grew up in a military family. My grandfather served in World War II and my father served for 25 years in the United States Air Force.
During my childhood, my dad was stationed throughout the world. We lived in Virginia, Guam, Texas, and England. I was able to meet numerous people from different backgrounds and I learned about different cultures. I had wanted to join the military since I was around 11 years old, but I wasn’t sure what I actually wanted to do.
When I graduated from high school, the military was on my mind, but I decided to go to college.
FOLLOWING FAMILY FOOTSTEPS
After a year in college, I decided to join the military. I needed some guidance and discipline in my life. So one day, I walked into the Army recruiter’s office and sat down with a recruiter. I told the recruiter that I wanted to join, and I was asked why. I gave my explanations and told him I just wanted to jump out of planes and shoot guns. At the time, I hadn’t done any research (the internet wasn’t available at our fingertips like it is today). The recruiter told me that he had the perfect position for me: 11 Bravo (Infantry) with a jump school contract. On November 13, 1996, I enlisted in the United States Army and was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia to attend basic training.
Upon completion of basic training and jump school, I received my orders to report to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where I was assigned to B Company 2/504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne. During my time in the Infantry, all we did was road marches, stay out in the field for weeks, go the range to shoot our weapons, and jump out of airplanes. After four years as an Infantryman, I was planning to leave the military and go back to school. However, I decided to stay and I changed my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) to a Satellite Imagery Analyst. I wanted a position in the military that would be beneficial in the civilian sector. When I completed my training, I was reassigned to 313th MI Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After spending another year with the 82nd Airborne, I received orders for Korea in 2002, where I was assigned to the 102nd Military Intelligence Battalion on Camp Red Cloud.
During my assignment in Korea I decided to look into the Special Forces since I was bored sitting behind a desk. I met with the Special Forces recruiter in Korea about my options. After a couple of meetings and filling out paperwork, I flew back to Fort Bragg to attend the Special Forces Assessment Selection. Upon completion of the Special Forces Assessment Selection and being selected, I received orders to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course. However, I had to fly back to Korea to finish my one-year tour. Once I finished my tour in Korea, I flew back to Fort Bragg to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course. During my time in the Qualification Course, I was trained to become an 18 Bravo (Weapons Sergeant). After the completion of the Qualification Course I was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group, Operational Detachment Alpha 3132, Fort Bragg, NC in 2004.
In 2010, I was on my fourth deployment to Afghanistan when I was injured by an IED. As a result of the IED blast, both of my legs were amputated above the knees. The last thing I remember was my teammate and I being loaded on a British Trauma Chinook helicopter. When I was lying in the chopper, I raised what was left of my legs and all I saw were bandages. I asked the flight nurse how my friend was doing and she told me that he would be okay. Then the flight nurse told me that she was going to put me to sleep. I was placed into a medically induced coma for about six weeks. When I awoke, I had no clue where I was or how badly I was injured. That’s when I found out that I was amputated above the knee on my right side and amputated to my hip on the left side due to an infection. I also had an open book hip fracture with metal rods sticking out of my pelvis, nerve damage to my right forearm, and two of my fingers were amputated.
During my time recovering at Walter Reed, my family and I had numerous unknown questions and concerns related to my injuries. Mobility, short and long term effects, mental state, financial situations, and the possibility of needing full-time care were top of mind. My main focus during my recovery was getting my strength back. I focused on walking in my prosthetics and tackling all the daily activities of living to become independent.
However, there were some dark times in my life when I wondered if I was capable of achieving my goals. It was hard to come to terms with my injuries at first. One day you have legs, and in a flash your world is flipped upside down. It was during my recovery that I came to terms with my injuries. I was not going to lie around feeling sorry for myself and do nothing. That just wasn’t me. During my recovery, I was watching other wounded individuals with the same or worse injuries accomplishing their goals. This gave me the strength to not give up. Every day I would strive to accomplish more during my physical therapy. When my physical therapy appointment was over, I didn’t leave, I stayed and worked out. I would spend my entire day working out and pushing myself, since I had nothing else to do. My family was my support group pushing me forward and giving me positive feedback. I had five goals I wanted to accomplish before I was medically retired.
SFC Holbert’s awards include: BS x2, Purple Heart, MSM, ARCOM V, ARCOM x2 JAM, AAM x4, Special Forces Tab, Expert Infantry Badge, Combat Infantry Badge.
My first goal was to get off all my pain medications. I did not want to become dependent on medication if I did not need it. So by the time I was discharged from the hospital, I was off all of my pain medications. My second goal was to be able to use my prosthetics. Understanding walking in my prosthetics is more difficult than others due to the severity of my injuries, but I was determined to learn. I now wear my prosthesis all day, but I am not at the point where I can walk full-time. I’m not giving up on that, though. The third goal was to learn how to drive again. I was so worried that I would not be able to drive since I don’t have any legs and that I would be dependent on my family to drive me around. Well, not only did I learn to drive, but I’m also still riding my motorcycle. My fourth goal was to go back to school and finish my degree. I finally graduated from Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies.
My final goal was to go back to work after I was medically retired from the military. Truthfully this was my hardest goal to deal with, transitioning from military life to civilian life. All I knew was the military. I was not ready to hang up my gear. It was the unknown that I was worried about. What is my task and purpose now? Where am I going to find employment? Who is going to hire me? What do I want to do? Where do I want to work? Common questions that we all ask ourselves. During my recovery I decided not to wait until my retirement to figure out what I wanted to do. I attended a couple of workshops searching for internships throughout the surrounding areas of D.C. I went to a couple of interviews, which I felt like I was not ready for, but it was a learning experience.
I found an internship with the Defense Intelligence Agency working as an intel analyst. I was not used to working in a large group, attending meetings all day, and briefing a large audience. Working with individuals who were government employees, members of the military, and veterans was a slight change, especially behind a desk. I was used to working with a small group of military individuals, but this experience allowed me to see the aspect of combined work. This was the pivotal point for me knowing that life outside the military is not that different. I cut my internship short because of my retirement. However, I was actively searching for employment and found a job working as a contractor supporting the Department of Defense.
Since my retirement from the military, I have striven to stay active in my life. Not just for myself, but also for my family. I enjoy working out, competing in triathlons, riding my motorcycles, and being an inspiration to my family and friends. My plan for the future is to enjoy life and still serve our country by supporting our military service members and veterans.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark currently resides in northern Virginia with his wife and daughters after he was medically retired from the United States Army. Since his retirement, Mark has earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and went back to work as an intel analyst supporting the Department of Defense. Mark strives to stay active in his life, not just for himself, but also for his family. He enjoys working out, competing in triathlons, riding his motorcycles, and being an inspiration to his family and friends. Mark’s future plans include continuing to serve his country by supporting military service members & veterans and just enjoying life.