Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
A hurried union
At Camp Pendleton, Jordan feels at home on the nation's busiest military base, 125,000 sprawling acres of shoreline, caramel-colored mountains and sunshine north of San Diego. It's the home of the 1st Marine Division, the oldest and most decorated division in the Marine Corps.
Jordan rejoins the rhythm of military life, keeps his head freshly shaved, uniform crisp, blending in with the other Marines, many of whom have scars from Iraq and Afghanistan. They all go about their daily lives, doing everything from live-fire exercises to sipping cappuccinos at the base Starbucks.
Jordan stays busy, taking photos on base, doing office work, going to rehabilitation three times a week for his leg -- his limp is mostly gone, but his ankle is still swollen, stiff. In his free time, he tries to play paintball, surf in the chilly Pacific, even touch football once, but his ankle won't hold up.
Jordan doesn't like limited duty -- leathernecks don't look fondly on anyone not pulling a full load -- but his commander considers him a model Marine.
"Once they saw he wasn't going to die, he's no longer a priority."
"When you think of young Marines, you have a picture of Jordan in mind," Giles says. "I wish I had 100 of him in my unit. He's got a lot of fire in his eyes."
Beneath the surface, though, Jordan's frustration is growing. His hand is improving, but when he tries to run, he wobbles painfully like a pirate on a peg leg. His medical review is postponed again.
Still, he finds reasons to be heartened. Just before Christmas and his 23rd birthday, he gives Randi a diamond engagement ring and they get married on a Hawaiian beach. It's too short notice for their families to be there, so Ginger listens happily over a speaker phone: "All I heard was the waterfall," she says, laughing. "I knew they'd get married the moment I met her."
In January, Jordan starts requalifying with his rifle. He uses his old M16A4, which has a shrapnel mark where his trigger finger was blown off. Now he fires using his damaged middle finger or his ring finger.
He can't shoot as well as he used to -- "We're not throwing hand grenades. Close isn't good enough," a staff sergeant barks -- but Jordan still scores decently on an electronic simulator firing range.
By late January, his impatience is peaking. He, Randi and Ginger believe his case has been mismanaged -- he had only one physical therapy session on his leg during his seven-month convalescence, which they think may have permanently affected the leg.
They also think he should be meritoriously promoted to corporal and transferred to Hawaii to be with Randi, whose commander decides she isn't needed on this deployment to Iraq. Jordan also can't get answers about what kind of disability compensation he would get if he takes a medical discharge or retirement.
"He's going 'round and 'round like a dog chasing his tail," Ginger says. "Once they saw he wasn't going to die, he's no longer a priority. He didn't lose his leg or arm, but he served his country and he deserves some straight answers."
With Jordan's support, Randi sends a forceful letter to the Marine Corps commandant and to a U.S. senator's wife in Washington, D.C., who does advocacy work for servicemen and servicewomen. The letter, which pleads for Randi and Jordan to be together in California or Hawaii, says he is "rotting in the system & being treated as an irritation rather than a hero."
When Jordan's commanders hear about the letter from their superiors, they say they didn't know the extent of his problems. They pull Jordan aside and chew him out for several hours for going outside the chain of command. They threaten to take him out of the rifle requalification class, which he needs to get back on full duty and transferred to Hawaii to be near Randi.
The next day, Jordan is allowed back into class, but he's fed up. He and Randi decide that whatever happens, they will leave the Marines. His contract expires in just over a year, hers in two and a half years.
He isn't sure what he will do after leaving the Marines, other than joining Randi in Hawaii, but he starts thinking seriously about his civilian prospects -- maybe studying multimedia in college, working for a multimedia company, starting his own company one day.