For Mark Lyons, the plan was simple: 20 years in the Marine Corps followed by a career in law enforcement. But when his left leg was amputated through the knee in early 2011, Lyons realized he needed a new plan. It was a daunting task at first, but the pieces started to fall into place once he was introduced to the Operation Warfighter program through his Command at the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Battalion East.
“My post-injury mind frame was a little bit muddled,” Lyons said. “I wasn’t sure what was coming next. This has given me a wonderful springboard, a wonderful base, and put me head and shoulders above.”
“I was at a point in my recovery where I could go out and do things,” Lyons said. “I figured chances were I would have to be retired from the Marine Corps and I was going to have to find employment somewhere, so I figured why not here?”
The U.S. Marshal Service had the same thought: ‘Wounded warriors make great employees, so why not have them here?’ Ricky Welton, a criminal investigator and Deputy U.S. Marshal, and former Marine himself, encouraged the agency to make hosting wounded warrior interns a priority. Mark Lyons was their first in the San Antonio area.
“I want to help them get the job skills they need so when they get out it’s not hard for them,” Welton said. He worked to place Lyons in a position that was as close as possible to the work he wanted to be doing. “He helped us a lot,” Welton said. “He was a real benefit to our office.”
In his position, Lyons helped with fugitive case files, updating warrants and checking databases, as well as filling in as an intelligence analyst and helping with paperwork and other administrative requirements.
His work was such a benefit, in fact, that Lyons was recently awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal in recognition of his efforts.
“My first reaction was, ‘This is kind of silly, I’m just doing my job,’” he said. “But if it helps to strengthen the program, then it’s worth it. I think the whole thing is just an incredible opportunity. It doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
It is an opportunity that LtCol Rick Riley, Officer in Charge of the wounded warrior detachment at Fort Sam Houston hopes more recovering Service members will take advantage of. According to Riley, OWF matches the Marine Corps’ goal to help Service members recover in mind, body and spirit, all with the support of their families.
“You’re talking about motivating a Marine and showing him or her that there are opportunities outside the Marine Corps and that their skills are transferable,” Riley said. He added that, in his detachment, the program is “highly recommended.”
With his retirement from the Marine Corps scheduled for June, Lyons’ time as an OWF intern is coming to a close. He plans to return to school to pursue a degree in criminal justice. After that, he’d love to have a job like the one he’s had with the U.S. Marshals. But whatever happens, he says his experience with OWF has been vital in preparing him for whatever comes next.
“It’s not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity to take advantage of while you can,” Lyons said. “Some Service members fail to recognize the significance of what’s happened to them, but you have to plan for the future now with the resources and opportunities in front of you.”