MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marine Corps infantry instructors are expected to be physically fit, mentally strong and have a vast amount of knowledge in their occupational field.
Gunnery Sgt. Gabriel Guest, the chief instructor of the Advanced Machine Gunners course at the School of Infantry-West’s Advanced Infantry Training Battalion here, is no exception.
"When I joined the Marine Corps, I chose to join the infantry because I like action and being in the thick of things, and because of the challenge it presents," said Guest, a native of Spokane, Wash. "The infantry is very dynamic, because there are a lot of different aspects you can master like weapons or tactics."
Guest deployed four times, three times to combat zones, in his career.
His first deployment was with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, in support of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in response to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor. His second and third deployments were to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and his fourth and final deployment was to Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.
Guest experienced his first enemy contact while deployed to Afghanistan during 2008.
"After our first engagement in Now Zad, we had to fight our way out of the city," he recalled. "It was like that every day for the next five months. Most engagements lasted anywhere from five to 15 hours long. I never wanted to see my guys get hurt or wounded, but I still carry those memories with me today."
After five months of constant enemy contact, Guest's vehicle drove over a pressure plate improvised explosive device, ejecting him from the vehicle and causing three different compound fractures in his left leg.
"After the dust cleared, I started to look around, and I noticed my boot was next to my face," Guest said. "I thought I was dizzy and was hallucinating until I looked down and saw the blood on my pant leg and saw the bones sticking out."
Guest was first sent to the medical facility at Bagram Airfield, and then to many other hospitals for more than 25 surgeries. During physical therapy, Guest said, he realized his leg wasn't going to heal as well as he had hoped it would, so he went through further surgeries.
Later, he was offered the chance to work at the School of Infantry as a machine gun instructor and seized the opportunity.
"I was the chief instructor running courses, and I was doing perfectly fine," Guest said. "I was working with weapons and doing regular infantry stuff again when I started to feel ill and my leg started hurting."
His leg became continuously infected because of constant physical training, and he was left with only three options: fusing his leg straight, allowing no bending in the knee; having a total knee replacement with risk of future infections that could be fatal; or having the leg amputated. He chose amputation, and underwent the operation on Oct. 10, 2012.
"Choosing to have my leg amputated was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in my life, because it is losing part of myself," Guest said.
Guest took only a week off work for his amputation because of his dedication. He continued to recover while he resumed teaching Marines.
"The Marine Corps made the Expanded Permanent Limited Duty Program for Marines like me who are wounded warriors and want to continue being Marines," Guest said. "I hope that I'm showing the commandant the program was a great choice, because I don't know what I would do with myself if I wasn't a Marine."
Through the EPLD program, Marines who experienced significant combat injuries that normally would restrict them from continuing their service are allowed to continue their careers by mentoring Marines through their leadership skills sharpened by combat experience.
Guest has taught multiple courses and is back to full duty, aside from certain physical training events, since his amputation.
"It's awesome to see him still have the same opportunities everyone else gets, because he earned every bit of it," said Marine Corps Cpl. Sean O'Malley, an instructor at the Advanced Machine Gunners course. "I've never seen him not willing to do something for any of his Marines. He puts so much into being an instructor, because he knows the Marines he is teaching may find themselves in the same combat situations he found himself in years ago. He wants each and every one of them to come back alive."
Guest said one of the reasons he loves his job is that he’s able to show Marines the reality of combat with the loss of his leg.
"I have had friends who were amputees who started drinking more and became depressed after losing their limbs, but Gunnery Sergeant Guest is not one of those people," said O'Malley, a Chicago native. "He is more active than a lot of people who have both of their legs."
Guest still swims and physically trains as he did before the amputation. He plans to return to an infantry battalion and continue to deploy overseas after finishing his time as an instructor.
"Once someone loses a limb from their body, it makes them appreciate the little things in life," he said. "It makes them understand how limited humans are, but it also lets them know how endless the potential is."