CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- After taking the reins in Sangin District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, began a hard-fought battle. By the time their tour ended in April 2011, the Marines of the battalion suffered the highest casualty rate of any U.S. Marine unit during the past 10 years of Operation Enduring Freedom, losing 25 Marines and incurring 184 casualties.
The battalion has a legacy dating back to Belleau Wood in World War I and a long history of success in battle in every major American conflict since. Their insignia and their motto, “Get Some,” is based in a brotherhood unique to U.S. Marines. For two “Darkhorse” Marines in particular, that devotion went beyond the field of battle.
After stepping on a pressure-plate improvised explosive device during a patrol of the Kajaki Dam area in southwestern Afghanistan, Cpl. Marcus Chischilly, a team leader with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, lost his left leg above the knee, sustained nerve damage in his right hand and received shrapnel wounds across his body.
It took two years for Chischilly, a Phoenix native, to recover from the blast, but in those years, Chischilly never lost his positive attitude, he said. After leaving the wheelchair, Chischilly was able to adapt to the prosthetic leg that assisted him with his mobility.
During his recovery, Chischilly, along with the other patients at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, participated in different adaptive sports. One sport that called out to Chischilly and his fellow Marines was wheelchair basketball, a sport where he could easily draw parallels to his time as an infantry team leader.
“Wheelchair basketball challenged us as a team; we had to really be cognitive of our teammates,” said Chischilly. “We learned to hone the skill of managing ourselves in a wheelchair.”
Chischilly, a member of the Navajo Nation, began playing wheelchair basketball in the 2012 Marine Corps Trials, where he not only participated in wheelchair basketball, but also in swimming and track and field.
“Learning basketball by itself was a challenge,” said Chischilly. “Learning to play it in a wheelchair is even tougher.”
Cpl. Josue Barron, a rifleman with the battalion and Los Angeles native, lost his left leg and left eye in a blast from an improvised explosive device, Oct. 21, 2010, while conducting military operations in Sangin. Barron grew up playing basketball, making his challenge to not only adapt to a wheelchair, but lose any bad habits.
Barron quickly found himself next to Chischilly, and they have been inseparable ever since, said Barron. Together they possess the same ability to overcome obstacles they encountered while with “Darkhorse.”
It was through wheelchair basketball that Chischilly and Barron became part of what Chischilly dubbed the “Fantastic Four,” four Marine amputees who went on to win gold at the Warrior Games.
Currently, Chischilly and Barron play for the Naval Medical Center San Diego Wolf Pack wheelchair basketball team — a team with a proven track record of creating champions. The team was founded by Chischilly, Barron and their fellow wounded warriors at Naval Medical Center San Diego in 2011.
Despite playing for a new team, Chischilly and Barron never forgot their connection to the 1st Marine Division and their battalion. Chischilly has the “Darkhorse” insignia branded on the prosthetic leg he uses to run track events and Barron not only has the insignia on his prosthetic leg, but stamped on his ocular prosthesis.
When both former and current Marines who served with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, see the insignia they are immediately drawn to him, said Chischilly.
“I use it to intimidate my other competitors,” said Chischilly. “When they see that insignia, they know I’m serious.”
As Chischilly begins his conditioning for the 2015 Marine Corps Trials, he knows he not only has his fellow competitors to inspire him, but the legacy of the “Darkhorse” battalion to fuel his motivation, giving him all the energy he needs to keep pushing further.
Although Barron recently became a new father and has taken a pause from wheelchair basketball, his loyalty still runs deep. While Barron opted to not participate in the games this year, he will support his teammates from the bleachers, he said.
“I tried coming back this year,” said Barron. “But I have new responsibilities, especially as a dad.”
Throughout history there have been many 1st Marine Division Marines that had to overcome injuries received in combat. Perseverance and pride fuels them to do great things. For Chischilly and Barron, the pride of belonging to the “Darkhorse” battalion and the reputation they uphold pushes them to achieve greatness.
“I’m proud to say I was with 3/5,” said Barron. “I lost a lot of friends, but for all of them, it was worth it. I’m proud of where I come from.”