Finding Relief and Peace in the Water
Navy Veteran turns to surfing to relieve pain
Waking before the sun to catch a wave is the best feeling, according to surfers. They say there is nothing better than cool, soft sand between your toes, especially before the daily mob of people arrives to sun bathe. The sweet smell of the ocean and the harmony of the waves can make time stand still. While this remains a dream for most people, or at most a pleasure to be indulged in once or twice a year, it is a regular reality for medically retired Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Nate Hamilton.
Like many veterans who have been injured in combat zones, Hamilton continued to suffer after he returned home. Indeed, wounded warriors can carry their injuries, thoughts, feelings and memories of the front lines back with them to the home front. Some don't have an outlet to cope with their emotions, which can lead to depression, according to experts. Hamilton found his outlet in the water.
He enlisted in the Navy in 2007. While in boot camp, the only job he dreamed of was becoming a fleet marine force (FMF) corpsman. He had to fight to make that dream a reality. So he felt like fate was smiling down on him when he received orders to report to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he attended an eight-week field medical service course and qualified as an FMF corpsman.
I actually went into the recruiter wanting to be a FMF corpsman," said Hamilton. "I felt I could make more of a difference there, felt like that was my calling."
Hamilton deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, assigned to a Marine Corps infantry unit. While he was on patrol, a vehicle ran over an improvised-explosive device (IED). The explosion sent shrapnel and fire in all directions. Hamilton suffered numerous injuries throughout his whole body, but that wasn't his concern. His training kicked in and, ignoring his own injuries, he started pulling Marines out of the damaged truck.
"I've been involved in quite a few incidents," said Hamilton. "The one that got me was I was actually on foot next to a vehicle that ran over an IED. The guys that were in that convoy thought I was a pink mist, and somehow I came out of that dust cloud and pulled the guys out of the vehicle."
Hamilton was medically evacuated to Camp Boston, a British military base in Afghanistan. He was diagnosed with a severe concussion, a ruptured tympanic membrane (the membrane between the outer and middle ear), hearing damage, spinal fractures and a frayed spinal cord. In November 2013, he was medically retired from the Navy. Compounding his ongoing challenges, which include using leg braces to walk, he soon found that his pain medication changed him mentally.