More than a silver lining

Major Constantine crossing a canal.

Major Constantine crossing a canal in Iraq.

No one changes the world alone. This is a story about two people who wrapped their arms around brutal change that came to them unexpectedly and found ways to support each other — and change a part of the world.

Justin and Dahlia Constantine are simply amazing. Justin’s courageous recovery from a devastating war injury and his subsequent advocacy of wounded warriors, and Dahlia’s selfless commitment to the man she loves are more than inspiring. They are life changing.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, Justin (’92) will address the December graduates of JMU’s Class of 2012. In anticipation of Justin’s commencement address, I asked him to write today’s blog post. Here is a part of Justin and Dahlia’s story.

Courage, commitment and change

By Justin Constantine (’92)

Nothing in life remains constant, and we are continually changing, adapting and evolving. Just like JMU looks and feels a lot different than it did 20 years ago when I graduated, I too am quite a different person now. Six years ago my life changed drastically, and by all objective measures I shouldn’t have survived to be here today.

Justin (far left) and his Civil Affairs Team

I joined the Marine Corps after my second year of law school, but when I deployed to Iraq in 2006, it wasn’t in the role of a JAG officer. I had the honor of leading a team of eight Marines, and we were attached to a Marine infantry battalion.

On October 18, 2006, our combat patrol stopped at one of our forward operating bases, and I noticed that the reporter accompanying us that day was kind of standing around. When we got out of the vehicle at our next stop, I told the reporter that he needed to move faster, because we knew a sniper had already killed a few Marines in that area. Based on that, he took a big step forward, and a split second later a round came in right where his head had been and hit the wall behind us. The next shot hit me right behind my ear and exited out my mouth, causing catastrophic damage along the way. In fact, the Marines around me thought that I had been killed, and when the Corpsman came running over, told him, “Don’t worry about the Major – he’s dead.”

George Grant and Justin Constantine

But George Grant is an amazing young man, and although the sniper was still shooting, he saved my life. As torn up as my face was, George performed rescue breathing on me, and then an emergency tracheotomy, so that I wouldn’t drown on my own blood. In fact, despite all that was going on around him, George did such a wonderful job on my tracheotomy that my plastic surgeon at the military hospital thought another surgeon had performed it.

Back in 2006, Dahlia and I were not yet married; we were married two years later in 2008. We had met earlier in 2006 at a Spanish immersion course in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Dahlia was there from California, and I came from Virginia. We were in the same small class, and we really hit it off during that time. We dated that summer back in the States, and then when I deployed to Iraq, Dahlia left to pursue her Ph.D. at Cambridge University in England. Unlike in other wars, we were still able to communicate with email, and letters and packages and the occasional satellite phone call, and we often talked about our lives together and how we could work that out.

The Constantines on their wedding day

After I was injured, Dahlia decided to temporarily drop out of her doctorate program to be with me in the hospital. Never mind that studying at Cambridge had been a lifelong dream of hers, or that she didn’t know anyone in Maryland near the military hospital, or that at that point the doctors didn’t even know if I would survive. When I awoke from my coma, Dahlia was there and we have been an inseparable team since. Because of the injury that caused these problems, I am far closer with Dahlia than I would have thought possible, I now know that I am far stronger than I ever would have imagined, and I can put everyday obstacles into their proper perspective and focus on what is truly important to me and Dahlia.

And they say that every cloud has a silver lining, but all the changes that have happened since that day in 2006 are far more than a lining. I am truly very lucky for my “new normal” and have some great things going on in my life. I have stayed in the Marine Corps Reserve and am now about to be promoted again. I am attending Georgetown University at night for an advanced law degree through the VA’s vocational rehabilitation program, and I work full time as a lawyer with the FBI and also recently started my own inspiration speaking company.

Justin and Dahlia when he received the Purple Heart

Because of my injury, I belong to a number of different wounded warrior organizations committed to helping so many of our returning heroes, and frankly, I know that I would not be doing this kind of advocacy if it weren’t for my injury. It sounds crazy, but this change that was violently thrust upon me, and all that comes with it, has actually been very beneficial to me in the long run.

Life changes, for better or worse. It all depends how you look at it. I choose the glass to be half full, not half empty, and to embrace change. I want to live in the future, not the past. Be the Change!

To read more about Justin and Dahlia Constantine, go to this link:
http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/stories/constantineIraqAndBack.shtml
Learn even more about Justin or engage him to speak by going to his website: http://www.justinconstantine.com
You can also find Justin on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and see him accept the 2011 George C. Lang award for his work with wounded warriors on YouTube.
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About grahammb
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to More than a silver lining

  1. Lee Paixao says:

    Justin and Dahlia thank you for your selfless service to our country! It is because of you and so many others like you that allow all of us to live the lives we so cherish in this country. Thank you again and God Bless you both!

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