MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – It’s a cold day in the heart of Fallujah, Iraq, and Sgt. Ricardo Ramirez, a squad leader serving with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, is leading his squad on a patrol through the city when they receive reports of an improvised explosive device strike in the vicinity.
His mission became searching for the IED’s trigger man, which had injured four Marines. As his squad was closing in he prepared a flash bang grenade to throw, it detonated in his left hand, severing it.
Ramirez was immediately evacuated from the combat zone and later flown back to the United States for further treatment. Along with facing the painful healing process, he also faced a major change in his habits. Because he was left-handed before the incident, Ramirez had to make adjustments to his life and his career.
“The fact that I was left-handed was one of the biggest issues that I had to get used to,” said Ramirez, a native of Quebradillas, Puerto Rico. “Simple things such as getting dressed and eating my own food suddenly became a challenge for me.”
Ramirez said he refused to be defeated by his disability. He had a strong love for the Marine Corps and wanted to continue his career.
“After I got used to doing the basic everyday things, it was time to start moving to get back on full duty,” he said. “I started working out and learning how to shoot with the M4, the pistol, perform the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and whatever else I had to do.”
Ramirez’s first task when trying to return to full duty was to perform a physical fitness test. He was told that he only had to perform three pull-ups to pass the test.
“Little did they know I had been practicing and getting stronger,” he said. “I had to tape my left hand to the bar because I did not have a prosthetic limb at the time and ended up performing 17 pull-ups.”
His next step in returning was to complete the rifle range. The fact that he had to learn how to shoot right-handed proved to be only a slight obstacle for him.
“I ended up qualifying as an expert with the rifle and qualifying as a sharpshooter with the pistol,” he said.
After passing both tests, Ramirez was allowed to continue training with his Marines, but due to his disability was not allowed to deploy even with his exceptional marksmanship and physical fitness scores.
“I wanted to go to war so, I went out and found someone that would let me go on a deployment with them,” he said. “I felt like I was the type of leader who could take charge of a group and bring those Marines back alive.”
After trying numerous regiments, he attached to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, where he was finally sent to Afghanistan.
“They needed a combat replacement, and I started knocking at the door trying to get that spot,” he said. “Everything changed when I got over there. They did not want me to go outside the wire.”
He received his chance to fight when he was made a squad leader in Bravo Company.
“We were patrolling day and night at that point. I was out patrolling with every squad that I could,” he said. “My platoon commander looked at me as any other Marine. He didn’t treat me any different or expect less out of me than someone with both his hands.”
During the deployment and throughout his career, Ramirez believed in leading by example, even with his disability. He never slacked during training, inspiring his Marines to work their hardest.
“We were performing an obstacle course during training,” he said. “With my prosthetic limb, I was able to go through the entire obstacle course. But at the end, I struggled climbing the rope because I couldn’t grip it properly.”
This setback did not stop him. Instead, he took off his prosthetic limb, went back to the beginning and proceeded to navigate the entire obstacle course including the rope with one hand.
“I wanted to show my Marines that we are going to do whatever is necessary to accomplish the mission,” he said. “I wanted to show all the guys that had excuses not to run it that I had plenty of excuses not to do it and I still did it. That’s just a part of leading by example.”
Ramirez carries the same attitude with him onto the football field, where he plays cornerback with the 5th Marine Regiment football team.
“If there is one thing I can say about Sgt. Ramirez it is that he has a never quit attitude,” said Sgt. Michael Murray, a food service specialist with 5th Marine Regiment and a close friend and teammate of Ramirez. “He is the type of person we need in the Marines, someone who will not stop.”
After overcoming the loss of his hand and deploying one more time to a combat zone, Ramirez is saying goodbye to the Marine Corps as he prepares to return to his home in Puerto Rico. He leaves behind his legacy of being a permanent light duty Marine and to re-enlist, inspiring hundreds more to follow his example.