Marine

THOMASVILLE — A Marine corporal recovering from an Iraqi grenade blast that ripped through his left leg expressed sympathy for Marines who repair computers.

“Times flies by a lot quicker when you’re out on mission,” Eric Fletcher explained. He sees tangible effects of his efforts.

The March 16 mission he was on when wounded was something Fletcher wanted to do. So was the mission he was on when wounded in late 2005.

Fletcher flew home Friday from Washington, D.C. After being injured March 16, he has been receiving treatment at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., since March 20.

A sniper, Fletcher joined the U.S. Marine Corps 3 1/2 years ago. Being a sniper is not about shooting, Fletcher explained. About 80 percent is reconnaissance surveillance.

The 22-year-old Marine’s job is to gather information for intelligence to process.

On March 16, during his third Iraqi tour, Fletcher and six other Marines were on a nighttime journey — on foot — to an outpost. They were walking through weeds between berms.

“They think we spooked some guys,” Fletcher explained. “It’s not like the movies. We still make noise.”

Fletcher heard the radio operator scream when struck by the first grenade. Then, he realized he was injured.

“I noticed my right hand was really hurting,” he said. Shrapnel narrowly missed his carotid artery. The second grenade landed directly behind him.

Half of his Achilles tendon was destroyed. The femoral artery in his left leg was destroyed. During a femoral bypass, an artery was taken from his right leg to replace the left femoral artery. Fletcher is about to begin outpatient rehabilitation and wound care treatment at Archbold Memorial Hospital.

Navigating with crutches and a walker, he will return to the naval hospital in about a week.

Fletcher’s family moved to Thomasville from Monticello, Fla. His mother, Trish Buckhalt, a nurse, worked at a Tallahassee, Fla., hospital until her son came home. Her full-time job now is taking care of him. Later, she will seek Thomasville employment.

Fletcher’s stepfather, Bill Buckhalt, also is employed in Tallahassee. Buckhalt’s father, the late William H. Buckhalt, was from Thomas County.

Mr. Buckhalt said the family moved to Thomasville in search of better housing a developer friend was offering.

Another Fletcher son, Travis, 24, also served in the Marine Corps.

Mrs. Buckhalt said the compassion shown by the community toward her son has been overwhelming.

Becca Byrd’s seventh-grade class at Brookwood Academy presented her with drawings and cards to take to her son in Maryland. “It really put a smile on his face,” Mrs. Buckhalt said.

The family is attending First Baptist Church, where people have been extremely kind, particularly Stann McLeod, a deacon. McLeod is a retired U.S. Air force lieutenant colonel, who heads the Air Force ROTC program at Thomasville High School.

When the young Marine was en route to the states and stopped in Germany for attention to his wounds, an Army Reserve surgeon, Dr. Mike Sutherland of Tallahassee, let Fletcher talk to his mother on the physician’s personal cell phone.

Sutherland went to a restaurant, bought a meal and took it to the hospitalized Marine, who quipped that the kind doctor was trying to spare him from hospital food.

Fletcher is in his third tour in Iraq. During the first in 2004, he was stationed in Ar Rubah. The second and third were in Fallujah.

On Oct. 18, 2005, Fletcher’s 21st birthday, he was traveling in a humvee, part of a convoy following a new commander. A roadside bomb exploded.

“I had a category 3 concussion and minor shrapnel,” the Marine explained. After a two-week recovery period, Fletcher returned to duty.

Fletcher, a 2003 Aucilla Christian Academy graduate, does not plan to re-enlist. “I enjoyed doing what I did, but it’s time to move on,” he said.

He plans to attend Florida State University and pursue a career as a physician.

His service to his country is not as Hollywood depicts it. Marines are not presented with photographs of the enemy and told to go for it. Missions take time.

Snipers paint pictures for commanders. They describe the threat.

“If you think you’re being threatened, you have the right to pull the trigger,” Fletcher said.

He might go for eight days and see no action. Fletcher compared the situation to sitting alongside U.S. 319 and watching traffic pass for eight days.

Other times, it’s action every day.

“We started a mission. We need to finish it. If we don’t finish it, all the men and women who have died, died in vain,” Fletcher said.

And, he added, the desired outcome might require decades.

A medical discharge is a possibility for Fletcher. “I don’t want that. I want an honorable discharge,” he said.

His unit will return to their Marine base in Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., in late August.

Fletcher plans to meet them there.

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