A Marine who was accidentally shot and seriously wounded last summer during a night exercise at Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island has made what the Corps is calling a “miraculous” recovery following 13 major surgeries.
Capt. Patrick Nugent, executive officer of Company C with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., was standing downrange and off to the side of a platoon conducting a live-fire exercise July 12.
The Marine officer was part of the three-ship USS America amphibious ready group, which stopped in Hawaii waters for training while heading to the Western Pacific on its first overseas deployment.
An investigation found that Nugent was hit by an M-16 5.56 mm round that ricocheted off a rock pile and struck him in the lower back, according to Capt. Maida Zheng, a spokeswoman for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Nugent’s initial prognosis “was less than favorable as the incident had caused severe internal injuries to his leg and doctors at the time predicted he would be unable to walk again,” Zheng said in a Marine Corps news story.
The company’s platoon sergeant and two hospital corpsmen sprinted over to aid Nugent, who was medevaced to Hilo Medical Center and then moved to Tripler Army Medical Center.
“My first impression when arriving was the severity of the incident,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Fonticiella, one of those corpsmen, said in the Marine Corps story. “We train countless hours for a moment like this and all the training and preparation we do as corpsmen come flooding back to you.”
When Nugent woke up, he thought he was paralyzed, but he began to regain feeling in both legs and doctors told him he had suffered nerve damage.
He was eventually transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for final surgeries including nerve reconstruction.
Following the medical ordeal, Nugent made progress walking again, at first with a cane and then without assistance, but he landed back in a wheelchair for a month after one nerve reconstruction.
Zheng said in an email that the training on the day Nugent was shot was considered advanced live fire and included Marines maneuvering to an objective as gunners laid down a base of fire. Nugent was hit by fire from one of those positions.
No one factor led to the incident, and while precautions were taken to ensure safety was maximized, the platoon commander, who was responsible for safety officers, misunderstood the required offset angle for Nugent in relation to the firing lanes and nearby rock pile, Zheng said.
The position of Nugent, who was the range officer in charge, “gave him better observation of the range to ensure safety regulations were followed; however, the investigation found that it led to him standing in an uncovered position which increased risk,” according to Zheng.
The investigating officer concluded Nugent’s injury was not the result of misconduct and did not find any culpability. The 15th MEU commander ordered mandatory rehearsals when changing from daytime to night, which was found to be a factor.
Nugent’s last surgery was in December, and after that and therapy, he was medically cleared to return to his unit.
“I was ecstatic when doctors approved me to go back on the deployment and to finish it with my company,” Nugent said in the Marine Corps story. “It was important for me to come back to the unit because I left them in a bad situation. The last time they saw me, I was getting loaded onto a helicopter, and now for them to see me recovering six months later and coming home with them to California was huge.”
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