Mr. Speaker, 1 in 10 Americans join the military and I am proud to say that the state of Texas consistently meets their quarterly quotas. Texans are raised with a sense of patriotism and civic duty, which is reflected by the number of enlisted members in the military. As of September 2017, Texas had 164,234 members on active duty or reserves, placing Texas as the 2nd state with the largest population serving in the armed forces.
From an early age Texans are taught southern hospitality, religion, and love for their country. This is especially true for Marine Corps Sergeant Eric Morante, who recalls wanting to be a US Marine since he was 8 years old. In 2003, weeks after graduating from high school, Eric stepped foot in San Diego, California to complete the Marine Corp boot camp. As an 0311-Infantryman, he was given orders to the 2nd battalion, 7th Marines in Twenty-nine Palms, California.
Weeks after reporting for duty, his unit deployed to Iraq. Eric would be assigned to a fire-team that cleared houses in Fallujah. On his first deployment, Eric was conducting raids, patrolling and identifying high value targets, all at the age of 18. Eric completed his first 7-month tour and returned safely to American soil for 6 months before being re-deployed to Iraq on July 4, 2005.
Eric’s second deployment was a little different than the first. Days before their scheduled return, the 2nd battalion, 7th Marines, lost 10 men and had 11 injuries from a single explosion caused by a pressure plate IED on the west side of Fallujah. After two ‘‘desert’’ deployments and the loss of several comrades, Eric Morante honorably completed his first enlistment. But this proud Texan was not done serving his country or his beloved US Marine Corps. In 2006, he raised his right hand, and for a second time, he swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. As he prepared for his new drill-instructor role, he learned that the 2/7 was being re-deployed for another tour. Eric deferred his new orders as a drill-instructor to accompany the men that had become his family, to the Middle-East. The loss of his friends weighed heavy on his heart and he was not prepared to lose more.
On April 20th of 2007, four months into this third Iraq deployment, Eric stood watch with 6 Marines and a Navy Corps man, over bridge 286 that overlooks 6 lanes over a major highway that runs through Iraq. On that day, their lives were forever changed. A dump truck carrying 3,000 lbs. of explosives detonated just 15 feet away from the bridge. Waking up covered in large remnants of concrete, Eric recalls sitting up and spitting up blood. His left arm twisted and dislocated and his right leg in an un-natural L-shape.
Despite the complete state of shock, the constant ringing in the ears, and the faint voices, Eric managed to account for his men. Miraculously, no men were killed in the explosion, and the 6 of the 8 men that were seriously injured were medevacked.
Unable to save Eric’s severely injured right leg, the doctors of Bethesda Naval Hospital amputated above the knee. Pins were used to repair his left hand, surgery to reconstruct his face was conducted and once again, Eric would have to learn how to walk. Recuperating at the Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, he found himself going through a period of depression and began to isolate himself from his loved ones. At one point, was taking 16 prescribed medications to help cope with his PTSD.
In 2009, Eric welcomed his first and only son, which gave him purpose and a new perspective in life. His new role as a father allowed him to once again be the Eric he once was; a leader with grit, respect, and desire to help others. Since the explosion, Eric has completed triathlons, 5Ks, and sprints. He also became the first Marine amputee to be sanctioned for boxing in the United States and remained undefeated for 5 full years. He boxes at fundraising matches that benefit veteran organizations, and has created a name for himself in the veteran community. He continuously advocates and helps others that struggle with PTSD and visits military hospitals in an effort to guide amputees through the prosthetics process.
Mr. Speaker, President Ronald Reagan once said ‘‘some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. But the Marines don’t have that problem’’. The great state of Texas commends Eric for his service, courage and resiliency. Semper Fi Marine.
And that’s just the way it is.