By Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers
Sgt. Maj. Raymond Mackey has been in the Marine Corps for 29 years but will be the first to tell you he can still hang with even the youngest Marines on the basketball court. As he quickly maneuvers his wheelchair by other players to get open for a pass, puts up shots in the key and shouts directions to others on his team, it is easy to see that Mackey is a natural-born leader – as an athlete, a Marine and a Wounded Warrior.
For the past two years, Mackey, a native of Sierra Vista, Ariz., has mentored and inspired other injured Marines he met while at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. It is these Marines who are now playing and competing alongside Mackey because of his gentle prodding and unwavering example. With every step he takes on his prosthetic legs and every push of the wheels on his wheelchair, Mackey is showing them what it means to be a Wounded Warrior.
While deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, in 2009 Mackey’s unit came under fire while on patrol. While returning fire and moving for cover through a ditch, the Marine directly in front of Mackey stepped on the trigger mechanism of an improvised explosive device, causing it to detonate.
The IED explosion funneled in the ditch, spreading out instead of up, and hit Mackey harder than the Marines around him. Most of the Marines suffered class four concussions and shrapnel wounds. Mackey lost both of his legs. But this setback did not change Mackey’s desire to lead and mentor Marines. This same desire prompted Mackey to compete with more than 300 other wounded Marines, veterans and allies in the 2012 Marine Corps Trials.
Following wheelchair basketball practice, Mackey took a few minutes to talk about his recovery and his passion for Marines.
Do you think the term ‘Wounded Warrior’ is a good way to describe you and other wounded Marines?
All of us have been wounded in one way or another — some of them are silent, some of them are not. Some of them are obvious like myself and a couple of the others who have amputations and then you have the guys with post traumatic stress disorder and the traumatic brain injury; they’re wounded as well.
What motivated you to come and participate in the 2012 Marine Corps Trials?
I was at Bethesda when a lot of these Marines came in. I’m the one who kind of talked them into going. So, if I didn’t show up, I’d be just another person telling them to do something I wasn’t doing myself. I came out here just for them.
Do you think you are able to compete with younger Marines on the court?
Hopefully one day, one of these younger guys are inspired to say, ‘I want to be like the sergeant major was on the basketball court. I want to be able to turn my wheelchair in the air and go back the other way.’ That’s the impact I want to have.
What do you hope is the outcome of the 2012 Marine Corps Trials?
My hope is that the East Coast will take home the Commander’s Cup. I want bragging rights. And I’m hoping that whomever gets selected to go to the Warrior Games will bring home the cup again.
What are your plans for the future?
You never quit being a Marine. I’m hoping to somehow still help Marines. I’m just not one who can sit still, so I’m going to try to get a job on base at Camp Lejeune where I can help Marines. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing because Marines are Marines. Sometimes they need help and sometimes they need guidance. Somehow, I’ll help Marines down there, whether it’s inspiring them or helping them buy cars and simple things like that.
What would you like to pass on to younger wounded Marines?
I want to inspire them. You can motivate anybody, but to inspire somebody is completely different. You can motivate these guys to come out here and play this game, but if you inspire them, it’s going to last a lifetime.