Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
Wounded twice by roadside bombs during two tours in Iraq, Jordan will be on limited duty at Camp Pendleton until he goes before a medical board, which will review his clinical records, physical condition and attitude. To qualify for full duty, he'll also have to pass a test that includes a three-mile run, sit-ups, pull-ups and marksmanship.
Jordan loves the Marines, wants to re-enlist for another four years, but he has grown frustrated with the military's medical bureaucracy, which he believes has hurt his recovery by not starting rehabilitation on his leg sooner.
He also doesn't want to return to Iraq, where Marine combat cameramen are needed badly. His unit -- Headquarters and Service Company, Headquarters Battalion, Combat Camera, 1st Marine Division -- leaves soon for a yearlong deployment. If he returns to full duty, Jordan might have to go with them, joining thousands of other wounded troops serving in Iraq, where the war has lasted for three years now.
"God bless him, he just wants to be a Marine, whether it's sitting at a desk or going back to Iraq," says his commander, Chief Warrant Officer John Giles. "We've all been there [to Iraq], and if he's in this unit, he may well have to deploy again. Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of sending somebody else."
But soon after he returns to Camp Pendleton, Marine officials change their minds, deciding Jordan has done enough. If he qualifies for full duty, they will try to transfer him to a stateside unit that won't deploy, where he would finish the last year of his contract and receive an honorable discharge.
As American battlefield medicine and body armor have improved, so have insurgents' choice of weapons. IEDs, or improvised explosive devices -- the military's term for roadside bombs and other explosives -- have made brain injuries and amputations the signature wounds of the Iraq war.
Four Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals have been designated as polytrauma rehabilitation centers to treat the growing number of troops with catastrophic and complex injuries, especially brain damage.
The Army has opened a new amputation center at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio to support the existing amputation center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Explosions account for most of the head injuries and amputations.
About 6,000 troops have suffered head injuries, including more than 1,700 diagnosed with brain damage. Nearly 400 troops have had amputations.
SOURCES: Department of Defense, Congressional Research Service
If he can't qualify for full duty, he can take an immediate medical discharge or retirement, or he can stay on limited duty for the next year at Camp Pendleton and receive an honorable discharge.
Either way, he probably won't be sent back to Iraq -- although there are no guarantees -- and he won't be allowed to re-enlist.
It's a bittersweet decision for Jordan, for whom civilian life is an uncomfortable prospect. He was a troubled teenager, but he's thrived in the Marines -- he fits in, feels respected, proud, purposeful.
His life has come to revolve around the Corps, which has given him his identity.
During his seven-month convalescence, he was convinced that he would soon return to full duty, so he's only vaguely thought of life after the Marines -- maybe being a civilian photographer, maybe joining the Coast Guard, maybe college.
Jordan's family doesn't tell him -- it would only upset him -- but they worry he will be adrift without the Marines, that he doesn't have the confidence to go from the structure of the military world to the freedom of civilian life.
"The Marines are something he's just so proud of," Ginger says, "and then for them to say, 'Oh, well, sorry, you're out,' it will just crush him."
The Marines have given Jordan more than pride -- they've also given him love. In July, he met Randi Foust, 24, a Marine lance corporal and combat videographer, in a multimedia class at the Pentagon's Defense Information School.
Randi grew up a tomboy in Michigan, where she had a troubled childhood. She left home at 16, supporting herself with odd jobs until she graduated from high school, the first from her family to do so. She joined the Marines almost two years ago and eventually hopes to become a forensic psychologist and a federal agent.
In October, as their romance deepens, Randi and Jordan hope he will be transferred to where she's stationed at Camp Smith in Hawaii. But then she and several other Camp Smith combat cameramen are ordered to join Jordan's Camp Pendleton unit when it deploys to Iraq in early 2006 -- without him, now that it's been decided he probably won't be ordered back.
It will be Randi's first tour, and Jordan is uncomfortable with the idea of remaining safely behind while his girlfriend and his buddies go to war. But he doesn't consider volunteering for a third tour. He thinks anyone who volunteers for Iraq is crazy.
Still, his family worries that he'll change his mind and volunteer for another tour. They put his destiny in God's hands. Back in Roanoke, his grandmother Betty Fitzgerald says: "Lord knows the roads we have to travel to get where we're going." She holds a Christmas gift that Jordan gave her -- a glass cube with a three-dimensional hologram of his face inside. It makes a ghostly image when she holds it up to the sunlight.