By Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
On October 26, 2010, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jonathon Blank, a reconnaissance Marine, with 1st Force Recon, 1st Marine Division was gathering intelligence on a suspected Taliban compound during Operation Enduring Freedom. When they reached their location early in the morning, the compound appeared uninhabited and extremely quiet, generally raising suspicion.
After a few hours of observation, the platoon discovered enemy activity and three improvised explosive devices. Within hours, the platoon found themselves engaging with four Taliban militants on the road alongside the compound. One of the IED’s detonated causing one of the Marines to receive a black eye and cut on his chin. Blank stepped on a fourth IED. The blast took both of his legs and he sustained multiple internal injuries and a compound fracture. From his injuries, Blank received an initial 24 units of blood and an additional 71 units in the weeks following. Blank was later medically retired as a Staff Sgt.
Nine years later, Blank is back on Camp Pendleton with his brothers that he served with on his deployment. Blank is a participant of the Annual Recon Challenge; a 30-mile obstacle course held to honor the fallen and injured Marines of the Force Reconnaissance community. He is one of the Marines in team ‘LOWLIFE,’ the same call sign Blank and his team held almost a decade ago.
“It's hard when you get separated from your command initially,” said Blank, “but over the years my guys have always been a phone call away.”
Blank has been a spectator for every Recon Challenge, but this is the first year he will participate. Blank will be assisted by fellow Marines while wearing a custom fit pack for over 30 miles. Due to his injuries, Blank will not be able to participate in some of the obstacles but the team plans to tackle as many as possible, together. For Blank, already one of few that have graduated two of the toughest Marine Corps schools (Scout Sniper Basic Course and the Basic Reconnaissance Course), it is no surprise he is up for the challenge.
“It's about the brotherhood and not leaving anyone behind,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Bryan Maass, former ‘LOWLIFE’ platoon sergeant. “You can do anything you put your mind to while working as a team.”
Team ‘LOWLIFE’ is again ready to test its courage and commitment which, along-side Blank with his go-getter mentality, continues to encourage Marines.
“It feels great not to be a bystander anymore,” added Blank. “It's been a while since we had this many of the guys together; it is a great feeling.”
The platoon will also be running in the memory of a fallen brother, Gunnery Sergeant Johnathon Gifford. Gunnery Sgt. Gifford was killed in action on July 29, 2012, while serving with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion.
Blank and team ‘LOWLIFE’ are prime examples of what it means to be a ‘Recon Ranger’ and United States Marine. The team’s participation during this year’s challenge clearly shows that while years have passed, their bond is unwavering, baring the mark of true brotherhood.