By Clinton Gill
Glade Sun editor
On Monday, June 24, Marine Sgt. Christopher Hancock, a Crossville native, will be returning home for his first visit since sustaining life-changing injuries in combat almost exactly two years ago. While on a combat mission in Afghanistan on June 26, 2011, Sgt. Hancock was injured when an IED detonated near him, resulting in the loss of both legs. A welcome home celebration is being planned for him at the Crossville airport – his plane is scheduled to land at 4 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.
Hancock graduated from Cumberland County High School in 2005. His lifelong dream of becoming a Marine was realized in November of that year upon arriving in Paris Island, SC. After successfully completing boot camp he attended Marine Combat Training to specialize in Combat Engineering. Upon completion of engineer school he was stationed at the Combat Assault Battalion in Okinawa, Japan.
After Japan, Hancock was transferred to Camp Pendleton, Ca. While there, he struck up a long distance relationship with a girl from back home whom he met through a mutual friend. As it turned out, the two had attended CCHS at the same time – at one point even riding the same bus – but they never met while in school. Fate would eventually bring them together, and on New Year's Eve 2008, Christopher and Danielle were married.
Eleven months later, Hancock deployed for his first tour in Afghanistan, leaving a pregnant bride behind to go fight in America's longest war. His six month stint was cut a couple of weeks short, due to his son, Matthew, being born 11 weeks premature. Matthew suffered a Grade 4 Intraventricular Hemorrhage and was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 67 days. His brain hemorrhage was severe and left him with left side affected Cerebral Palsy.
In November 2010, Sgt. Hancock was reassigned to the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion in Camp Lejeune, NC. He deployed to Afghanistan for a second time on June 5, 2011. Three weeks later, his life would literally be flipped upside down.
Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. "Between 1999 and 2008 Afghanistan had the highest number of landmine casualties (12,069) in the world," according to the Landmine Monitor Report 2009. Each month, between 30 and 60 Afghans have an encounter with landmines. They are either killed or badly injured. More than half of the victims are children under 18.
Sgt. Hancock's unit was operating in the Sangin Valley, located in the infamously deadly Helmand Province. They routinely conducted foot patrols to disrupt enemy activity, and it was Sgt. Hancock's responsibility to clear a safe path for his men using a metal detector. They were halfway back to their patrol base one Sunday, when Sgt. Hancock "got a big metallic hit" with his detector. He instinctively squatted down to investigate the immediate area for danger.
"Before I could turn to warn the Marines behind me, an explosion occurred," said Hancock. "The force was so great it shattered my legs beyond recognition and propelled me 20 feet into the air. I landed with such force that I was knocked unconscious, sending me into a state of shock."
Hancock's unit was ambushed by an enemy improvised explosive device (IED); it was believed to be command detonated, meaning an insurgent detonated it remotely while watching the Marine patrol.
When Sgt. Hancock regained consciousness, his Marines were running to his aid.
"They applied tourniquets, bandages and pain relief and called for a medevac," he said.
He was airlifted by helicopter to Camp Leatherneck where he remained overnight until he was stable enough for a flight to Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany. He was in Germany for four days before finally being sent back home to the States.
On July 1, he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, MD; his family arrived only hours behind him. During his stay at Walter Reed he endured over 50 grueling surgeries. He battled infections resulting in quarantine, severe pain, depression, anxiety and emotional stress.
Two and a half months later, he was transferred to outpatient status, where he underwent rigorous physical and occupational therapy every day.
"At the time, my son was 18-months-old and due to his Cerebral Palsy was not yet walking," said Hancock. "As he began attempting to walk, bets were placed on who would walk first, Matthew or myself. Matthew took his first independent steps just a few short days before I received my first pair of prosthetic legs and took my first steps on October 13, 2011. Over the next few months we learned to walk without the aid of furniture, bars, walkers or canes."
Sgt. Hancock was released from Walter Reed on August 3, 2012. He is currently stationed in Camp Lejeune serving on active duty status. He is petitioning the USMC to allow him to stay on active duty in the Extended Permanent Limited Duty Program. In spite of everything he's been through, Sgt. Hancock still wants to be a Marine more than anything. Semper Fi.
The family would like to thank Larry Henson of First National Bank of Tennessee, who has been a tremendous help.