News>American300 Tour brings wounded vets, stories of survival
2nd Lt. Stephanie Guenther, 341st Operations Support Squadron ICBM instructor combat crew commander, left, shows Salvador Gonzalez the inside of the Missile Procedures Trainer on Sept. 25. Gonzalez and Daniel Gilyeat, both U.S. Marine Corps wounded veterans, visited Malmstrom Air Force Base as part of the American300 Gunners Tour. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Turner)
Daniel Gilyeat, retired U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant, tries on a hoist that Malmstrom’s Tactical Response Force members wear when they repel down a personnel access hatch at the T-9 trainer. Gilyeat, an above-knee amputee who was hit by a roadside bomb in 2005, shared his struggles and successes during and after his time spent as a Marine with Airmen at Malmstrom Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen)
A member of Malmstrom’s 341st SFG TRF fits a helmet on Gonzalez before showing him how they repel down a personnel access hatch at the T-9 trainer on Sept. 25. Gonzalez and Gilyeat had a hands-on chance to try on TRF equipment and partake in SFG training at the T-9 trainer and TRF shoot-house. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen)
Senior Airman Michael Travis, 341st Security Forces Group Tactical Response Force member, center, holds Salvador Gonzales’ prosthetic leg as other TRF members look on. Gonzalez was deployed in Ramadi, Iraq, when he lost part of his leg after a direct roadside bomb hit his Humvee in 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen)
Senior Airman Thomas Browne, 341st Security Forces Group Tactical Response Force member, shows Salvador Gonzalez an automatic rifle at the T-9 trainer. Former U.S. Marine Corps heavy machine gun operator and wounded veteran, Gonzalez had a chance to interact with 341st SFG Airmen during the “Never Quit Series” Gunner Tour and share his experiences from being in Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen)
Robi Powers, American300 Warrior Tours founder, far left, and Daniel Gilyeat, retired U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant, speak to members of the 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron about Gilyeat’s time spent as a Marine and the hardships he faced after losing his leg in 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo/Beau Wade)
Robi Powers, American300 Warrior Tours founder, asks Airman 1st Class Samuel Frei, left, and Senior Airman Russell Freier, both 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron members, about one of their weapons after observing a Weapons Storage Area recapture exercise Sept. 26. (U.S. Air Force photo/Beau Wade)
Senior Airman Jacob Twaddle, 341st SFG TRF member, helps Gilyeat enter the TRF shoot house facility as another TRF member watches behind them during a breeching scenario on Sept. 26. Complete with a vest and helmet, Gilyeat had a hands-on opportunity to practice breaching the facility and clearing the threat during his tour at Malmstrom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen)
by Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen
341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
9/28/2012 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- The American300 Warrior Tours "Never Quit Series" returned to Malmstrom Air Force Base on Sept. 25 and 26 bringing the inspiring stories of survival, resiliency and combat experiences of two former Marines.
Robi Powers, American300 Warrior Tours founder, brought with him Salvador Gonzalez and Daniel Gilyeat, former U.S. Marine Corps heavy machine gun operators, and their passion to help other service members and veterans on their road to physical and emotional recovery.
"We started this tour at Barksdale where we learned about the B-52 mission," Powers said. "From there we went to Whiteman where the B-2s took over. From bombers to missiles, the 'Never Quit' Series Gunner Tour continues," Powers said. "Dan Gilyeat, above-knee amputee, has been sharing his story of perseverance, can-do attitude, knocked-down and getting back up, as well as his teammate Sal Gonzalez, another amputee who was injured in an improvised explosive device strike in 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq. Two Marines; one great message: never quit."
Gilyeat and Gonzalez shared their stories as they visited with Airmen at the Missile Procedures Trainer, the T-9 trainer, Elkhorn Dining Facility, Guardmount and the TRF shoot-house.
It was July 2005 when then Staff Sgt. Gilyeat was sitting in the front seat of a Humvee in Ramadi when a roadside bomb detonated, severing his leg. He had been trained to be prepared for this moment since he first joined the service 12 years prior.
"Although depression set in about a month after the bombing, I just snapped out of it," Gilyeat said. "When I was in the hospital recovering, I looked at the guys to my left and I looked at the guys to my right. I knew I had to keep fighting for the guys who weren't going to make it home."
Just 27 days after losing his leg, he was walking again.
"There were no limitations," Gilyeat said. "I went out and proved the doctors wrong. I learned that if you truly want something, there are no restrictions."
Although he had a long road to recovery with a few speed bumps, Gilyeat said he "used to be quiet and withdrawn. Now I have something to say. I'm going to say it."
After his time spent as a Marine, the Kansas City, Kan., native has since run for U.S. Congress, been the recipient of a new house and featured on ABC's 'Extreme Home Makeover,' and has mentored current and former service members.
"I don't get to put a uniform on anymore, but I get to do this [American300] so I feel like I'm still in the service," Gilyeat said. "By coming out and talking to the Airmen, or anyone who is currently serving in our military, we have the opportunity to reach out and create personal relationships. We let them know their job is important. We are always here to lend a helping hand, because for those of us who have been wounded or are no longer putting the uniform on every single day, we have the opportunity to feel like we are continuing to serve by getting out and talking to young men and women. I hope we are making a difference."
Similar to Gilyeat, Gonzalez was a machine gunner on the front lines in Ramadi when his Humvee was hit by roadside bombs in 2004. It wasn't until the seventh hit that caused him an amputation of his lower left leg. Along with his leg, Gonzalez also lost his friend and lieutenant, Matt Lynch.
After returning stateside to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., he remained in a coma for three weeks.
Twelve months of recovery and a medical discharge left Gonzalez unsure about the next stage in his life as a civilian.
Gonzalez said he went into a deep depression immediately after losing his leg and dealt with it by drinking alcohol. It wasn't until he reunited with his music roots that he found writing songs and playing his guitar helped him quit drinking altogether. He now resides in Tennessee where he plays and writes country songs and volunteers his time for the American300 tour.
"Coming out here feels great being able to meet these Airmen and see the guys we're passing the torch to," Gonzalez said. "I was in the Marine Corps from 2003 to 2005 so I'm older and I've moved on in life, but it's still nice to know there are men keeping the world safe for us. The things that I can share with them are just my experiences in combat, little tips and tricks in my travels around the globe- both with the Marine Corps and my training with SWAT. Sharing my experiences in combat, the way I dealt with my injuries, with post-traumatic stress disorder and everything that comes with that. It feels really good to share and mentor these young Airmen."