Grant Cantrell III suffered severe leg injuries while serving in Afghanistan
Members of the Bikers for Soldiers Board of Directors present Grant Cantrell with a $500 check and a card signed by several visitors to the fourth annual Veterans' Appreciation Day at Zern's Farmers Market Saturday. From left to right Nina Owens, Grant Cantrell, Deb Fronheiser, Tanja Moyer and Robin "Cherokee" Gilmore.
Doctors gave Marine Cpl. Grant Cantrell III two options to deal with his severely injured legs: amputate them to end the suffering or endure a long recovery and multiple surgeries.
Nearly three years later, after undergoing three procedures and relearning to walk, Cantrell walked among numerous friends and supporters in the silver wing parking lot of Zern's Farmers Market. He wears high tech leg braces on both feet to help provide stability.
On Saturday during its fourth annual Veterans' Appreciation Day, the Bikers for Soldiers motorcycle club honored Cantrell, a 2008 graduate of Owen J. Roberts High School, who sustained the injuries while serving in Afghanistan.
The organization chose to celebrate Cantrell because of his ties to the community and because he served overseas with honor and conviction, according to Robin "Cherokee" Gilmore, a member of the club's board of directors and veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
Gilmore said the intent of the annual event is to bring the plight of wounded veterans to the local stage. "Most people don't understand that they have a neighbor who served two tours in Iraq or Afghanistan and lost a leg," he said.
According to Gilmore, the motorcycle club represents a tiny group of people willing to do whatever it takes to help young veterans survive. He said that one combat veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. "That is catastrophic," Gilmore said. "If we can help these people understand their condition is temporary, then we've accomplished something. We made it, and they can make it, too."
Gilmore said he felt an instant connection with Cantrell. "He's the kind of kid you fall in love with the instant you see him," Gilmore said. "Grant represents all of us when we were young. He did something none of us were completely equipped to handle, and now he needs someone to lean on."
The 24-year-old, who said he feels three-quarters of the way towards full recovery, lives in Spring City and works as a video analyst for SEPTA.
Eventually, Cantrell says he wants to pursue a career as an animal therapist. "Grant is 100 percent on the ball," Gilmore said. "He knows that part of his job is to pave the way for the next solider that comes home."
Cantrell – who received a Purple Heart from President Obama in his hospital bed at the Walter Reed Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md. – absorbed his injuries when a bomb detonated near the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected all-terrain vehicle carrying him through the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.
The blast, which left his feet and lower legs covered with blisters and burns, forced Cantrell to deal with extreme pain. Cantrell also suffered traumatic brain injury in the explosion, which occurred during his second tour in September 2011. He was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
After enduring two surgeries on his legs and one knee procedure to help combat muscle weakness and nerve pain, Cantrell returned to his feet after nine months. He's been walking without a cane for two years.
During his recovery, the marine participated in the Return to Run Clinical Pathway program at the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas.
Cantrell, who required several hours of physical and occupational therapy, used his cell phone to help overcome short-term memory loss. "When I had something to do, I set an alarm," he said.
According to Cantrell, his reintegration into civilian life has been relatively smooth. "It takes time to transition out of the military," said Cantrell, who was discharged in November.
The adjustment from solider to civilian is not an easy one, according to Gilmore. "Some things stay with you forever," he said.
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