Wounded Warrior Walks Down Aisle

I wanted to share this from my friend Micaela Bensko’s Blog. Micaela is a world-class photographer and an extraordinary human being. She is also on the Board of the Iraq Star Foundation and her mother, Maggie Lockridge is the founder. This group provides pro-bono surgeries to severely wounded warriors. MilitaryConnection.com is proud to support this organization and proud to call people like Micaela and Maggie dear friends.

Debbie Gregory, CEO

For more information: go to www.iraqstar.org or www.bensko.blogspot.com

Tony stood at the Alter with a halo. Not your usual halo. This one clung to his leg, the white pant fabric safety pinned around the black metal brace holding the screws to his bone. No one expected him to wear his dress Blues that day. No one expected him to be able to stand that day. Tony was back from Iraq, having been blown up by an IED for the second time. He is a marine…

I met Tony through my work with The Iraq Star Foundation, offering free reconstructive surgery to our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. As these troops gradually became family to me, I began to understand the sacrifices couples endure while serving in the military.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Hurt Locker, that was Tony. He rendered-safe IED’s in Iraq. We met during his first dental reconstruction through our foundation. An explosion left him with a shattered jaw among other injuries. With his beautiful fiancé and fellow marine, Melissa, by his side, Tony recovered. After this first reconstruction and recuperation, he voluntarily re-deployed…only to be blown up, again.

At this point, his left leg and hand were completely shattered. He returned to Walter Reed, and the surgeries ensued. They had a civil ceremony next to his hospital bed, we ordered balloons and a cake, and our East Coast Warrior Ambassador, Rosita, made sure all of the logistics were secured, clicking away with her point and shoot like an expected parent witnessing the birth of possibilities.

Although their impromptu bedside wedding was perfect in its execution and purpose, it was not the wedding they dreamed of. You see, it was Spring, and they had set their Fall wedding date prior to his re-deployment, and by no means was Tony going to change that date. As far as he was concerned, his actual wedding date was now the carrot on the stick. His bride was going to have the wedding she had dreamed of, and he was going to walk down that aisle come hell or high water…and he did. November 21, 2009, SSgt Tony Lino stood at the Alter with legs firmly planted in the mortar of a 19th century Palo Alto church. With his cane propped next to his side, halo on his leg , and Blues pressed by angel’s hands, his armored gaze shot down the aisle with anticipation. This was his new life, his reason for living through it all, his heart was 50 feet away and slowing walking toward him in a haze of bridled light. I crouched at his parent’s feet, stealth in my attempt to capture every moment of this reunion of purpose. There is no pay, no fee, which could ever create a greater fulfillment than I experienced at that moment. As family and friends witnessed their vows, anecdotal ghosts from the years of pain, challenge, devotion, danced across their words and set them free to fully love in face of all that was meaningful.

If shooting such a job Pro Bono is a selfless act, then I think I’m doing it wrong. Every time I experience the act of working under conditions such as this I feel selfish. The emotional quell of operating in a zone of expectations bread solely from a mutual respect and gratitude between the couple and myself is a personal treasure beyond any monetary value I could imagine.

At the end of the evening I stepped back and asked if I gave enough, because throughout the process it was me who received. The constant flow of appreciation and kindness not just from the couple, but from their guests left me feeling unworthy. Yet each new friendship developed throughout the evening was bread from the common thread of understanding and connection to two very normal souls carrying the burden of kings.