Camp Lejeune, N.C. -- A plaque here hangs on the wall at the Wounded Warrior complex dedicated by Gen. James Amos, the Marine Commandant, to the self-described "mean S.O.B." who overcame his own traumatic brain injury to start the program.
The tribute to retired Col. Tim Maxwell read in part that he "led the way for the entire Marine Corps in the uncharted waters of integrating wounded Marines back into operational units."
Maxwell said the idea for the Wounded Warrior program came from a job Amos gave him in the summer of 2005 as he recovered from his own devastating injuries. Amos, then commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force at Lejeune, asked Maxwell to visit other injured Marines on base and at local hospitals to gauge their progress.
Maxwell said he came back with a message for Amos: "Sir, these guys need somebody to be with, they need to be with each other, they need to be hanging together."
"The bottom line -- there's a problem with guys coming back," Maxwell said. "Their fire team, their squad, their platoon, taking care of each other -- that was more important than life," he said.
"You know you matter" in the military, most of all in combat, Maxwell said. The sudden loss of that sense of self-worth that wounded troops can experience "just eats them up," Maxwell said.
With Amos' approval, Maxwell rounded up some contributions from local area businesses and was given an old barracks. It was Maxwell, his wounded "gunny" from Iraq, Gunnery Sgt. Ken Barnes, and about 20 severely wounded Marines assigned to them with the mission of recovery for duty or transitioning to civilian life.
For the most part, Maxwell was winging it. He had been hit by a mortar round in Iraq on Aug. 9, 2004, leaving a jagged scar running from his left ear to the top of his skull.
As he described it at the time, "they just took the bone and slapped it back on my head. I started thinking I know a hell of a lot about war but I don't know a damned thing about being wounded. I didn't like being at home," he said. "I thought it would be nice to have a place where you could be with other guys who were wounded."
"For some, it's not so good to be home," Maxwell said of the Marines who join up to get away from bad environments at home.
From its meager beginnings, the Injured Support Unit evolved into the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East at Camp Lejeune, the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and a Wounded Warrior Regiment headquarters at Quantico, Va.
There are case managers, care coordinators, counselors and a cadre of reserve Marines around the country to track and assist Marines who transition out of the Corps with Veterans Affairs care and job opportunities. The programs have expanded from serving wounded troops to non-combat injured and ill troops.
In 2007, the Army started similar programs and eventually set up 29 Warrior Transition Units nationwide to serve soldiers also seeking to return to duty or get assistance in going back to civilian life.
Since the units were first set up in June 2007, more than 50,000 soldiers have been assigned to them, and 27,765, or 47 percent, have been returned to duty, the Army's Warrior Transition Command said.
Currently, there are about 2,000 Marines in Wounded Warrior Battalion-East at Camp Lejeune and Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton. About 30,000 Marines have gone through Wounded Warrior programs since they were started, and about 54 percent have returned to duty, according to Marine spokesmen.
Maxwell, 47, of Dallas, has retired from the Marines and, with his wife Shannon, now runs the SemperMax Support Fund to continue their advocacy for wounded troops.
Last year, with a grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Maxwells organized a couples retreat for troops suffering from TBI and their spouses.
"Shannon and Tim Maxwell have been incredible advocates and leaders in the TBI Community," said Anne Marie Dougherty, executive director of the Woodruff Foundation named for former ABC anchor Bob Woodruff, who suffered TBI in Iraq.
The Maxwells' "important work continues to fill gaps and get to the heart of some of the pressing -- challenges service members and their families face," Dougherty said.