MOORESVILLE, N.C. - A Mooresville veteran has been in D.C. for months, learning to walk again.
Marine Cpl. Garrett Carnes is fighting his way back from his injuries with his wife, Courtney, at his side.
Eight months ago, he lost both legs in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED.
“This is kind of my new job,” Carnes said. “I'll come in here and work out all day long.”
He added: “This is a completely different beast of physical conditioning. I know this is the only way I can get back to where I want to be.”
He has come a long way from that day in February overseas when his platoon found an abandoned compound. As the squad leader, Carnes took the first step inside.
“I remember hearing a loud boom,” Carnes said. “I felt like in slow motion I was doing 360s, like on a rollercoaster and everything went black. I realized someone got blown up, got hit -- ‘Who was it?’”
Carnes went on to say: “I tried to get up, I couldn't move. I looked down when the dust completely settled and I saw my legs and realized that it was me who stepped on the IED, and that the screaming that I was hearing was from myself.”
In that moment, he said he was still thinking first of the 12 Marines and a corpsman under his charge -- his "field" family that he calls closer than blood.
“We grew to love each other so much that they did trust me with their lives,” Carnes said. “In a way, I am happy that it was me because if it was one of them that went down -- that's my brother.”
That camaraderie is his soft spot.
“They still have a job to do, and I am not there with them,” he said.
Even still, he said, he'd do it all again.
“I wouldn't change a thing,” Carnes said. “I mean, I knew the risks when I signed up like we all do. No regrets.”
After one more surgery and six more months of therapy, Carnes hopes to return home to Mooresville.
But for now, he's humbled and plans to reflect more than ever on this Veterans Day.
“Being in this situation and seeing how easy it is to lose everything, it makes you fully understand those guys who never got to come home. It could've been one of us,” Carnes said.
Carnes underwent another surgery last week, which will delay his return to the gym for a while.
He and his wife hope to come home to North Carolina by the summer. Both plan to attend college, and they look forward to starting a family.
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