First Sgt. Mark Tobey, of Chaos Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, spends his days taking care of soldiers and equipment.
Yet, several years before he was a first sergeant, Tobey endured a life-changing experience that has profoundly impacted how he leads soldiers today.
He was a platoon sergeant and on a foot patrol in Tarmiyah, Iraq, the day before Thanksgiving 2006. The patrol was meant to familiarize Tobey with the surrounding area, as he and his platoon were performing a relief-in-place with the outgoing platoon.
As the two squads entered a market place within the city, Tobey noticed a change in the atmosphere.
“It was pretty quiet and made things uneasy,” said the Gilbertsville, N.Y., native. “I walked over and told my platoon leader to keep a look out, because it was so quiet.”
Just as they exited the market, Tobey heard a loud pop, felt his left leg lift up, and then felt nothing at all.
“I thought I had stepped on a mine,” he said. “I looked down. My foot was still there, so I’m good to go.”
Tobey tried to seek cover from the gunfire, but as he tried to stand, he fell and realized his leg was worse than he thought.
During the commotion of the fire fight, the screaming and yelling of the other soldiers, and the gunfire, one of Tobey’s tank commanders ran out and dragged him behind a pile of gravel for better protection and so a medic could properly look him over.
As the medic bandaged him up, a Humvee pulled up from the patrol base to evacuate him from the area to the safety of the base.
Tobey was flown on a Black Hawk helicopter to Baghdad, where emergency room personnel waited for him.
He woke up the following morning with his command sergeant major and colonel standing over him.
His command sergeant major told him they had brought some Purple Heart medals with them but were not expecting to hand one out so early.
“They pinned it on me, and I believe it was that afternoon, they flew me to Landstuhl (Germany),” Tobey said. “I was there about a day and went back into surgery.”
Within a day or two of his second surgery, Tobey was flown home.
“I got home to Fort Hood, spent a couple of days in the hospital, and had a cast put on,” he said.
“And the first day I saw the orthopedic surgeon I asked how long it was going to be before I can go back.”
“It’s going to be at least six weeks,” the surgeon said.
And every week, for those six weeks, the cast had to be replaced and his ankle and foot brought forward and reset. For nearly a month following his final cast removal, he continued to use crutches. He began attending physical therapy twice a week for roughly seven months.
Through perseverance, Tobey was able return to Iraq September 2007.
“I wanted to be able to show the young soldiers that it takes a lot of heart and hard work to go from where I was and come back — and you never give up,” Tobey said. “I was a sergeant first class at the time, and I just wanted to be able to take care of guys.”
Seeing the wounded soldiers coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan also heightened his motivation.
“I’ve got to keep pushing myself, and I still have a lot of teaching and mentoring I want to give to the soldiers,” he said.