2015 ROTR | Warfighter Made Trip

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com064

It seems that for most of my adult life I have carried some level of guilt around for not enlisting in the military. Both of my grandfathers were veterans, one served in the Navy and the other in the Army. A few of my friends enlisted right out of high school. I met with a Marine Corps recruiter named Sgt. Dorkus a couple of times but I just wanted to party and make some money back then and never took those meetings too serious. Needless to say my priorities were all screwed up as a teenager. Like many others after 9/11 I was all pissed off, wishing I was in the fight but I wasn’t in a position in my life to drop what I had going on to join the armed forces. Maybe too selfish?

As my career grew, I forgot about those temptations for being a military man. I still would indulge in History channel war docs and always loved a good war story. I remember some years ago (2006) I picked up an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine and there was a story about a US Iraq war veteran returning with severe mental and physical injuries, this was about the time that PTSD was really becoming a topic of discussion amongst the general public. Awareness was increasing in regards to soldiers returning from combat with severe mental stress and depression due to their time on the front lines.

What was ironic about that issue of Rolling Stone was a story about Marine Corps Sgt. Scott Thorne. It was crazy because I realized this was the Scott Thorne that grew up down the street from my brother and I. He was a very un-intimidating youth who played sports and hung out with my brother often. What I didn’t know until that story was that Scott had joined the Marines and turned into a modern day bad ass. While leading a patrol on the streets of Mosul on September 14, 2004 Scott and his patrol were ambushed by a group of drive-by insurgents. Scott was shot in the head, a bullet embedded into his brain while fellow Marine, Sgt. Jacob Demand was killed on site. Scott’s life was spared, his fellow soldiers quick actions saved his life and doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. did all they could to repair the damage. The bullet was left in Scott’s brain. Scott Returned to our hometown of Escondido, CA forever a changed man. But the article was more than just a story of a soldier wounded in war, it was about the after affects of war and their mental and physical injuries. I don’t remember every detail of the story, but what always stuck with me was how the story turned from bad to worse for Scott on a personal level. See, as Scott returned home to his wife a disabled man, she turned her back on him. Again, I don’t remember the details but I do remember how sick I felt knowing that this man, this hero, sacrificed so much for not just his family but for all of us, and the person he loved most turned her back on him due to the fact that he was a different person. It made me sick. It hurt me to read this. It left me forever wondering just how many men and women are coming back from war to a home or country that no longer understands them and what they had been through.

As far as I know, Sgt. Scott Thorne has gone on to live life, no doubt a fully changed person, but he is alive. His story has forever stuck with me and although I have not seen Scott since those high school years I would do anything for him and anyone else in his shoes that needed help.

As I have grown older and matured I have begun to feel deep regret for not doing “my part” as a young, healthy and albeit studly youth.. (my wife still calls me a stud so stop laughing). This guilt, or maybe its more of me just being grateful, has caused me to have deep compassion and empathy for our veterans. I have grown to be more grateful and proud of my own families history as veterans. I have also developed a passion to do what little I am capable of doing to supporting these heroes. Sometimes its as simple as handing that Vietnam War Veteran panhandling on the street a couple of bucks but as of late I have been presented with a greater opportunity. Robert Blanton and Warfighter Made has come into my life.

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com139

MSgt. Robert Blanton….

Last year I was introduced to Master Sergeant Robert Blanton, Marine Corps (Ret). Blanton is a Recon Marine which means he is one of the baddest dudes in the world, a guy you want on your side. To give you a little background on MSgt. Blanton, he is an Iraq war veteran who has been honored with the Silver Star Medal. The Silver Star is the third-highest military decoration for valor awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces, Blanton was awarded this medal after rescuing and saving the life of a fellow Marine. The way I describe Robert when talking about him to friends is, he’s the kind of guy they make movies about.

The following is an excerpt from a MilitaryTimes.com page discussing Robert’s Silver Star Award. “The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Gunnery Sergeant Robert J. Blanton, United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving as Platoon Sergeant, First Platoon, Company A, Third Reconnaissance Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), on 10 August 2008, in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM FY-08. As an element of Gunnery Sergeant Blanton’s platoon began clearing what appeared to be an abandoned house, it became heavily engaged with enemy small arms fire from a strong point located inside the building. Gunnery Sergeant Blanton immediately repositioned his element’s vehicles to support the engaged element. Bravely exposing himself to enemy fire, he dismounted his vehicle and began engaging insurgents as they presented themselves. Using initiative and quick thinking, Gunnery Sergeant Blanton returned to his vehicle and directed it to ram the building’s outer wall in order to expose additional insurgents within the building. He then led a small group of Marines to clear the building and recover a wounded Marine trapped inside. During the recovery, Gunnery Sergeant Blanton courageously transitioned from his rifle to his pistol and began engaging insurgents located in close proximity to his position. Once the recovery was complete, Gunnery Sergeant Blanton coordinated with supporting aircraft on station to deliver precision guided munitions directly on the insurgent stronghold, effectively ending the engagement. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Gunnery Sergeant Blanton reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

That excerpt is just a glimpse into who Robert is, what he is about and how much of himself he has dedicated to being not only an honorable soldier & family man, but to being a protector of our country and his “brothers”. But I think whats most important about Robert is who he has become following his Military career. Alongside fellow veteran Brian T. Meyer and friend Butch Lynch, Robert founded Warfighter Made. The goal was to help ill and combat wounded veterans adapt and rehab by means of customizing vehicles to fit their injuries as well as take these veterans on trips which are referred to as Recreational Therapy experiences. In the few years Warfighter Made has been in operation, Robert and team have adapted numerous vehicles and treated veterans to numerous recreational therapy experiences and trips. To put it simply, Robert has dedicated his post military life to serving his brothers returning from war, putting others first just as he had done throughout his military career as a Marine.

While Robert bares no visible scars, in fact he’s still the epitome of a Marine in terms of physical stature, he does suffer what he refers to as invisible injuries. Robert like most who return from intense combat suffers from PTSD. These invisible injuries and his battle with them is what caused him to start Warfighter Made. He himself has been at the very bottom of depression. He has suffered deeply and at one point was on the brink of suicide. Did you know that 22 veterans commit suicide a day? Robert educated me to the statistics and let me tell you, its scary. Robert explained the psychological impact of war to me and just how deep and ugly the problem is amongst our combat veterans. His understanding of the pain, depression, anxiety and confusion is what has made him so effective in helping his brothers. He told me a story about how at one point he was on every form of antidepressant and medication, how he would go and visit head doctors who wanted nothing more than to talk to him and to tell him what was wrong with him and how to fix it. At one point Robert snapped on a psychologist and told him “why don’t you shut up and listen to me now!” See, unless you have lived it, seen it, smelled it and felt it, you can’t understand what he and all these thousands and thousands of veterans have seen and lived through. Sometimes you just need to shut up and listen, let them tell you how they feel. Sometimes, you just need to listen.

While Robert still and always will live life carrying the burden of PTSD, he has found a new form of therapy. He hasn’t said this to me, but I can plainly see that helping his brothers is now his means of maintaining. It is now his mission to save lives off the battlefield. The same lives he fought for in combat, he is now fighting for upon their return. He is a lifelong soldier, his enemy has shifted, he is now fighting against the after affects of combat.

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com034

Heading to Moab…

After meeting Robert and spending time with him and the Warfighter Made group we took to Mammoth last year (SEE VIDEO HERE) I knew I wanted to be a part of this organization at some level.  I felt that up to this point UTVUnderground and myself had not done enough in the realm of charity and while we have done things over the years to support injured off-road enthusiasts we had yet to use our platform at UTVUnderground to really promote and support a cause as great as Warfighter. It was finally time to feel like I too can be a part of something special, and while it won’t replace the fact that I had never done my part as a soldier, in some way I feel like I can find solitude in helping serve and give back to the heroes who had served and given up so much for this amazing place we call home.

Since meeting Robert we have hosted the Warfighter Made group (in large part to funding from Polaris RZR) in Mammoth for an amazing Recreational Therapy experience, enjoyed their company at numerous Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Events (thanks to the amazing hosting by RJ Anderson & Todd Davis), and supported Warfighter Made via awareness through social media and UTVUnderground. But, this isn’t enough. Its not even close to enough. They deserve so much more from our site, our community and from me personally. On that trip to Mammoth I forged what I believe to be life long friendships with Patrick Walker, Rob Dickey AKA Rob5, and Brian T. Meyer. We made memories on that trip and I was able to sit, listen and learn about what they have gone through and what being a wounded combat veteran actually means.

Last week, after weeks of planning, we embarked on another adventure with the Warfighter Made organization to Moab, UT for the 2015 Rally On The Rocks. Up to this point Polaris RZR has donated 4 Polaris RZR Xp1000’s to Warfighter Made. Over the course of about 8 months Robert has done all he can to piece together some awesome RZRs for use by the veterans they wish to support on these Recreational Therapy trips. Many companies have stepped up to modify and adapt these RZRs into capable and accessible off-road machines. Of course, starting with a RZR XP1000, half the battle is won right off the showroom floor but these adrenaline junkies can punish vehicles, and they have done a good job of putting the Polaris RZRs to the test, this upcoming trip to Moab would be no different.

For this trip Robert would invite Marine Cpl. Michael Fox and his wife Erica. Marine Sgt. Gabriel Martinez and his wife Kayla. And Marine Cpl. Joshua Sust. Mike, Gabe and Josh were all victims of brutal IED attacks while serving in Afghanistan. Mike & Gabe both lost their legs in separate IED attacks. Josh was hit and nearly lost his foot and arm, 9 surgeries later he is able to operate with the use of both arms and legs but the visible and hidden scars are there for all 3 of these men. It was special for Mike and Erica to attend this trip to Moab, they both were married the week before! What better honeymoon to have right!!?? Erica didn’t agree, but it was really cool having them as well as Gabe & Kayla on the trip with us. Kayla & Erica are huge in both of Mike & Gabe’s recovery. These women have stood by their men through the most challenging of circumstances. They probably would’t agree, but to me, they deserve just as much credit for being heroes as their husbands do. This would be all of their first times to Moab and their first times really off-roading to this level in a RZR. It was set up to be an awesome week of riding!

After a 12 hour journey from San Diego to Moab, UT, we had arrived just before our guests. Mike & Erica came in from Texas, Gabe & Kayla from Colorado and Josh from Ohio. Its crazy because despite all of these Marines, including Robert, being from all different parts of the country, you can easily see these guys are all brothers. They all operate at the same level and speak on the same frequency. Its a special bond they share and after some time with the guys unless you notice their prosthetics or scars you would have no idea these guys have been through and live with the wounds of war. We immediately all hit it off and were anxious to get to riding at one of our favorite events in one of the best off-road paradises in the world!

The Rally On The Rocks event is held every year in May in Moab. This is the 6th year in a row that I have attended, every year I anxiously await this trip and since attending my first time I have enjoyed introducing Moab and the Rally On The Rocks to other friends. This year was special being able to bring the Warfighter Made organization with us. Once again, Polaris RZR backed our efforts and made sure that Warfighter Made had the resources necessary to make the trip and host these amazing individuals. We had a full Mad Media camera crew, a full Warfighter Made crew, Mark Epsky from Polaris, UTVUG Racer Mike Gardner & Myself, 3 condos, and a total of 9 Polaris machines! We were all set to take on this awesome event and week of riding.

Since Mike & Gabe are both double amputees, Robert did what he could to adapt the vehicles to be driven by them. The XP4 RZR that Mike would drive would be equipped with hand controls while Gabe opted to not use hand controls in favor of using his left leg (prosthetic) for controlling the throttle and brake in his RZR. While Mike did a fantastic job all week, Gabe was terrible… hahahaha OK OK OK, that joke was for Gabe, he was pretty bad, but he was getting it done and considering he was using his left leg to control both brake and gas he did a fantastic job navigating the difficult terrain. The fact that he took out 2 a-arms and a couple tires seems pretty minimal since I attempted to unload my RZRs after the trip driving like he did, with my real left leg, and I just about crashed. So Kudos to both of these guys for pushing through, conquering every obstacle and doing it all with a smile. Josh was able to wheel a new RZR XP1000 and he wasn’t afraid of anything. I had so much fun watching these guys ride all week and seeing them light up with every obstacle they conquered.

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com049

Rallying On The Rocks…

Moab may not be the ideal place to take new off-road drivers, especially those whom lack feeling in their legs. Rock crawling requires precision driving, touch and feel. One mistake and you can put your vehicle and yourself in danger. Then again, thats exactly what these guys are used to. But for the novice off-roader, driving loaner machines it may not be the ideal location for what we were doing. On the other end, its the perfect place to challenge people, to put them in uncomfortable situations and force them to overcome fears and obstacles. In addition, there is no better place in the world to ride RZRs and see some of God’s best work in creating the earth. We selected Moab and Rally On The Rocks because of its accommodations, its versatile trail options and we felt bringing them to the biggest UTV rally of the year would be added bonus.

We kicked our first day of riding off on a trail called Hells Revenge. Hells Revenge is an awesome trail, its prototypical Moab being made up of 90% slick rock. When you think of Moab you envision Hells Revenge. Its a medium to hard trail depending on your skill level. If you stay on the main trail you would really have to screw up to be in any danger, but off the trail are some exciting and challenging obstacles. We were met on the trail by our good friends Gregg & Tanner Godfrey of the Godfrey Clan. Gregg Godfrey is the mastermind behind the Nitro Circus brand, he has been a part of the action sports movement since the beginning and could be credited for putting extreme action sports into the mainstream with his work alongside Travis Pastrana, Johnny Knoxville and many others. Tanner Godfrey is Gregg’s nephew. Tanner whom we have featured many times on UTVUnderground.com (LEARN MORE ABOUT TANNER HERE) is an avid off-roader, he is also paralyzed from the waist down after suffering a sever spinal cord injury on his motorcycle some years ago. Tanner, who has overcome his own challenges teaching himself to walk all over again, has also put the Warfighter Made name on his back and is doing things to help support and raise awareness for the organization. They made the trip to Moab and met us on Hells Revenge for an awesome day of riding and filming.

As we hit the trail we were all immediately thrilled. There is nothing like the first ride of a long trip. I was playing trail boss all week so I felt this would be a great trail to acclimate everyone to their machines while still giving everyone the thrill of Moab with all of the views and terrain. As we had planned the day out we knew we wanted to really impress and reward the Warfighter Made crew and the guys at Camp Chef were there to help us do that. Last year for Mammoth the guys at CAMP CHEF donated a ton of outdoor cooking equipment. When they heard we were bringing the guys to Moab they once again wanted to show their appreciation and gratitude so they planned a surprise mid trail lunch. In typical Camp Chef fashion they pulled out all the stops hauling in on their Polaris Ranger a full BBQ Camp Chef cooking station where the entire crew could make some amazing pulled pork nachos heated in the Camp Chef Pizza top oven. It was an awesome treat and we did all of it right at the top of Hells Gate, one of the most challenging obstacles in all of Moab. While we all enjoyed lunch our pack of RZRs took turns heading up Hells Gate. For sure the highlight was watching Tanner Godfrey, who like Gabe refuses to use hand controls. Instead Tanner uses what he calls a “driving stick” to control the throttle and brake. This adds a massive level of difficulty for driving in this terrain but he conquered Hells Gate like a boss and not far behind him was Warfighter Josh Sust who powered his RZR up in exciting fashion. Watching Josh complete the trail and hearing the Warfighter’s and the others there let out a roar of excitement was the first of many chilling moments for me.

For day 2 we headed to one of my favorite trails in Moab. We would be taking on Gold Bar Rim, home of the famous Golden Crack obstacle. After a late start we hit the trail, once again with the Godfrey Clan. We blasted through the rocks and down a crazy steep faced rock obstacle. Shortly after the first of 2 a-arms would be destroyed by Gabe. Gabe is a crazy dude, totally fearless and you can tell he just wants to live on the edge. His wife Kayla is a sweetheart, calm and collected, almost the polar opposite of her hard charging husband. After assessing the damage the Godfrey Clan jumped in and offered to help fix the machine so we could all keep moving along. A quick call to our friend Scott McFarland who owns High Point Hummer & RZR in Moab and a new a-arm was on the way to the trail head where the Godfrey’s would meet up and get the machine fixed for us. While they were repairing the machine we all kept on to the Golden Crack. We spent time there playing in the crack, making jokes, filming interviews and simply just enjoying our time together. It was here that the guys would all conquer the crack one by one, even Kayla got into the drivers seat for her first time and drove through the crack like a seasoned pro. Once again I was humbled by being around these guys. Seeing just how much fun we were all having together and watching them once again traverse challenging obstacles just reminded me of how cool of a trip we were on.

Thursday would be our first day of riding with the Rally On The Rocks event. Lanse and Jerrod, owners of the event rolled out the red carpet for us. They covered all the fees for the Warfighter’s and made it clear that they were honored to have this awesome group as part of the ROTR event. Once registered we all staged to make way to one of the most challenging trails in all of Moab, the Cliffhanger!! We took a police escort through town to the trail head but on the way were hit head on with a massive storm. The sky opened up and heavy rain greeted us as we reached the bottom of the trail. None of us were too prepared for the weather but we decided to head onto the trail anyway. The trail is difficult when its dry, but factor in the wet and now muddy tires and the rocky obstacles were now slick and harder than they have ever been. At the midway point we made the call to work our way back out which still took us hours due to the group size and challenging obstacles. Nevertheless we conquered the trail one by one, each Warfighter putting their skills, will and machines to the test. Kayla & Erica were holding on for dear life as their husbands throttled down and pushed their machines up each of the challenging rock sections. We spent the rest of the rainy day relaxing and having fun. A few of us went back to the event site where we visited with all the Rally On The Rocks vendors and enjoyed the game night experience that ROTR hosted. We wrapped the day up with a homemade chili dinner made by Kayla at the condos. All was right in the world…

Friday would be our final day on the trails in Moab. With the weather still threatening we all made our way for our final ride on Moab Rim, another scenic trail with some gnarly obstacles right at the start. As we hit the trail we once again all conquered the trails gate keeper obstacle. The Warfighter’s all were operating like seasoned pro’s and we had a solid time climbing up the trail. Josh had one little mishap, laying his RZR on its side. We had a good laugh, righted him, made some fun of him, got strapped in, made some more fun of him, then got on with the ride. Of course we had a helicopter chasing us half the way thanks to Mad Media! That made things exciting!

We made our way to the rim where we overlooked the town of Moab, enjoyed some conversation, took photos and really just took in what would be our final ride together that week. Once we loaded up we charged hard down the trail running wide open giving the Warfighter’s a chance to let it all hang out. Everyone was ripping, having fun and I couldn’t help but reflect on the moment as being the reason we love to off-road. Seeing my friends enjoy themselves is what its all about. Even though Mike decided to roll coming down the stair step obstacle it just added to the stories and fun. We also made fun of him! I was worried if Robert would be bummed that his newly modified Warfighter XP4 was now scraped up. He said, “now she has some character!” A couple of scrapes, bumps and bruises is nothing new to these Marines. Its part of life for them, a couple scars on the vehicle don’t hurt, instead they tell the story of adventure, they truly do give the machine character!

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com129

Saying Goodbye…

With the riding done and the sky’s opening up we jumped back on the highway and headed to our condo’s and trailers. This would be the last I would see of these guys this trip. As they headed back to the condo I put the RZRs on the trailer to make an early departure to get back to California for our friends memorial service. The guys stopped as I was loading, revved the engines, threw me a couple of thumbs up and then motored on back down the road. Mission Accomplished.

These trips continue to change me. I am left with a sense of pride knowing that I was able to spend time with a few of the nations true bad asses. I can’t thank Robert Blanton, his team at Warfighter Made and Polaris enough for these opportunities. My life is filled with adventure, I am constantly surrounded by amazing people, I truly do live a blessed life, but being around guys like Mike, Gabe, Josh and Robert really are highlights. Robert says that these trips are supposed to teach these veterans that its not about what they have lost, but what they still have left. Well for me, its not about what I have left, its about what else can I do more to try and leave the same impact on them as they leave on me.

I will end this by giving thanks to the people that made this trip so special. First and foremost thank you to the Warfighter’s who made the trip. Thank you to Polaris RZR for making this all happen for us and providing us the resources to not only bring everyone to Moab but also to tell their stories via UTVUG. It was awesome having Mark Epsky of Polaris with us all week. Mark took on the trails with us and has instantly become a huge champion for Warfighter Made. Thank you to our team at Mad Media for their countless hours of travel and work. Without them we wouldn’t be able to tell these stories on video and share them with the world. Thank you to my co-dog on the trip Mike Gardner, it was awesome spending time with you on the trail and on the road. Thank you to Lanse, Jerrod and everyone at Rally On The Rocks for once again putting on the best UTV rally event in the world! Thank you to the Godfrey Clan for spending time with us, making us laugh and putting in all the work repairing vehicles. Thank you to Bill & Brandon Schueler and the entire Jagged X team for chipping in to help us repair a broken Warfighter Machine. Thank you to Scott McFarland for the awesome parts support. Thank you to Cody Currie of Walker Evans Racing and Jacob Shaw, UTV World Champion for spending time with us adding a lot of fun to the rides. Lastly, thank you to Robert Blanton for his friendship, support of our veterans and for dedicating so much to making all this happen. I am honored to call you my friend.

See you all on our next Adventure…

Joey D.

Please make a donation to Warfighter Made! Every dollar helps!! DONATE HERE

 

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com082
Marine Master Sergeant Robert J. Blanton (Silver Star)
Robert J. Blanton was born in Santa Rosa, California and enlisted in the Marine Corps on 26 July 1993 from Oakland, California. Upon completion of recruit training at MCRD San Diego, Ca, Master Sergeant Blanton attended the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, CA, and was assigned the MOS of 0311 (Basic Rifleman). Upon completion of school he was transferred to 3rd Bn, 1st Marines where he served as a Fire Team Leader, Squad Leader and Plt Guide. While assigned to 3/1 he was deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Oct 1994 to April 1995. During the months of February and March, he partook in Operation United Shield/Restore Hope in Somalia, holding key ground while the United Nations withdrew its forces.

In November 1995, Master Sergeant Blanton passed the Force Reconnaissance Indoctrination and was reassigned to 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, Camp Pendleton, CA. During his time at 1st Force, Master Sergeant Blanton deployed with the Marine Expeditionary Units on four separate occasions, deployed to Iraq twice, conducted a Hydrographic survey in Oman, protected food drops in East Timor, provided aid and security in Indonesia immediately after the Tsunami in 04, and was awarded for having compassion for local Iraqi’s, and for keeping their best interests in mind during combat operations. Also of note, MSgt Blanton was a part of the Force Recon platoon that inserted behind enemy lines before the ground war started in Iraq, March 2003 and are credited with being the first Marines in Iraq.

In Sep 2005, Master Sergeant Blanton was reassigned to 3D Special Operations Training Group (SOTG), Okinawa, Japan where he served as the Chief Instructor for Dynamic Assault (CQB), and instructor of Dynamic Entry, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) and Urban Sniper. During this tour he made multiple deployments to Guam and the Philippines, training both the Marines of the 31st MEU and Philippine Marine Corps. In May 2007, Master Sergeant Blanton volunteered for duty at 3D Reconnaissance Bn in order to take a platoon to Iraq. Master Sergeant Blanton deployed for a third time to Iraq in April, 2008 with 1st platoon, Alpha Co, 3D Reconnaissance Bn. During this tour his platoon conducted counterinsurgency operations, conducted two Combat parachute inserts, was tasked to provide R&S and security on a local village for follow on jump inserts, and was dispatched to set up a hasty combat drop zone that successfully inserted a platoon worth of Recon Marines in an urban environment, with only 45 minutes notice. His platoon was also credited with capturing one mid-level Al Qaida operative, and eliminating 12 members of a terrorist cell that was using suicide vests to kill coalition forces and local Iraqi’s, saving 100s of lives.

From May 2009 to May 2012, Master Sergeant Blanton served as the Operations Chief for Recon Training Company, then served as the Staff Non Commissioned Officer In Charge (SNCOIC) of the Basic Recon Course. During this time he recruited and trained 100s of Marines, helping them attain the title “Recon Marine”. Master Sergeant Blanton is currently assigned to 1st Special Operation Training Group as the SNCOIC of Special Training Branch. His personal awards include the Silver Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Marine Commendation Medal with a Combat “V” valor device, and gold star in lieu of second award, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with three gold stars in lieu of fourth award, and Combat Action ribbon with a gold star in lieu second award.

His military specialty schools include, Basic Reconnaissance Course, Basic Airborne, Combatant Dive School, Diving Supervisors Course, Survival-Evade-Resist-Escape (SERE) School, Military Freefall, Static Line Jump Master, Freefall Jumpmaster, Advanced Freefall, Close Quarters Battle package (X4), High Threat/Personal Security Corse, Target Analysis, Sniper, Urban Sniper, Recon and Surveillance Course, Dynamic Entry(Breacher)Course, Dynamic Entry Instructor, Dynamic Assault(CQB) Instructor.
Master Sergeant Blanton is married to Retired Chief Warrant Officer Halima Blanton of Inglewood, Ca and they have two children, Nicholas who is in the Navy and Jasmine, who is a junior in High School. He is also the Co-Founder, CEO and Executive Director of the nonprofit Warfighter Made, which specializes in recreational therapy for ill, injured and combat wounded service members and veterans.

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com136
Marine Corporal Michael Fox (Purple Heart)
Marine Corporal Michael Fox was on his third deployment when he suffered the traumatic amputations of both of his legs in an IED blast in Musa Qala, Afghanistan on November 15, 2011.

The Fire Team Leader, Also Echo Co. 2nd Bn, 4th Marines, Cpl Fox and his men were looking for a suitable location to create a new patrol base. Upon entering a compound that looked like a good choice for the new base, Cpl Fox made his way to the top of a berm that appeared to have a good vantage point over the Wadi (dried creek-bed) and the surrounding hills. Turning to call to his designated marksman and alert him of the vantage point, Cpl Fox heard a blast as he was thrown into the air; dirt and darkness surrounding him. Hearing his squad calling to him, he realized that he could not move.

As the squad began administering life saving first aid, Michael learned that he had lost his legs. With four tourniquets in place, and a Landing Zone secured, a helicopter was able to transport him to Camp Bastion. Falling unconscious shortly after arriving at the local hospital, Cpl Fox was next transported to Landstuhl, Germany where he endured multiple surgeries while in the ICU to stabilize him for his eventual transport stateside.

Arriving at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, Michael endured many more surgeries over the course of the next month. Eventually transferred to Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego for treatments and therapies, Cpl Fox remained there until his retirement.

Cpl Fox enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Erica and hopes to return to college and study either automotive or photography. A racing enthusiast, he enjoys racing at the local drag strips. He also loves deep sea fishing.

(bio credit: Homes For Our Troops)

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com137
Marine Sergeant Gabriel Martinez (Purple Heart)
Marine Sergeant Gabriel Martinez was on his 2nd deployment when he lost both of his legs after stepping on an IED in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2010.

While conducting a route clearance mission, a vehicle in the convoy hit an IED; Sgt. Martinez and his team immediately began a foot patrol in search of any enemy in the area. As he approached the side of the disabled vehicle, Sgt. Martinez stepped on a second IED, causing the traumatic amputations of both of his legs. During the next moments, a third IED detonated, seriously injuring another Marine who was trying to assist Sgt. Martinez. Airlifted to a local military hospital, Gabriel was next transported to Landstuhl, Germany before making his way to Bethesda National Medical Center in Maryland, and eventually Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California.

Sgt. Martinez enjoys spending time with his daughter, outdoor recreation and many sports including hand-cycling and biking. He also participates in marathons and triathlons. Pursuing a degree to become a prosthetist, Gabriel would like to work with amputees to help them regain their mobility and independence.

(bio credit: Homes For Our Troops)

2015-warfighter-made-rally-on-the-rocks-vincent-knakal-utvunderground.com135
Marine Corporal Joshua Sust (Purple Heart)

Joshua Sust was born in January 20,1987 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from Colerain High School in June 2006. 2 weeks after his graduation he was on a bus to the one and only Parris Island MCRD.

After 13 grueling weeks he finally accomplished his greatest achievement becoming a United States Marine. Upon completion of boot camp PVT Sust was headed to SOI East at camp Gieger, NC. After another grueling 3 months PFC Sust graduated SOI and was headed to the Fleet Marine Force with 2nd battalion 4th marines at Camp Pendleton, CA

Cpl. Sust spent a total of 6yrs with 2/4 and 3 deployments with them. His first two were the 31st and 11th MEU on his last and finally deployment CPL Sust was deployed to Helmand Provence, Afghanistan in September 2011.

On a day he will never forget which has come to be known as many others a his alive day. Nov 12, 2011 at around 0830 Cpl. Sust was on a mounted patrol when his Vic hit an IED causing his door to be blown off and ejected. His injuries are: shattered tib/fib left foot and open fractures to both bones in his left arm. After years of therapy and 9 surgeries later Cpl. Sust was medically retired from the Marine Corps in Aug 2013.

Now as a retired Marine Joshua Sust finds the best therapy for him is being around his combat brothers and hunting and fishing and also riding his motorcycle. For him nothing is better than being outdoors at a lake or in the woods. He feels at peace were everything kind of slows down and he can relax and enjoy his life. He is also a board member of The wounded Marine Fund that helps other wounded vets.

Cpl. Sust awards are: Purple Heart, Combat action ribbon, Good Conduct Medal x2, Afghanistan Campaign medal, sea service deployment ribbon x3, meritorious mass, letter of appreciation x2, certificate of appreciation, and cercom.

Warfighter-T-Featured-UTV

 

All proceeds from the sale of the new UTVUG | Warfighter Made shirt get donated directly to Warfighter Made!

PURCHASE SHIRT HERE

Photos By: Vincent Knakal & Jessica Katharsys // UTVUnderground.com