Photo Credit: Courtesy or Ian Stewart, Justin Constantine, Michael Segal
Help others and you’ll help yourself
Iraq’s Anbar Province was a dangerous place to be in 2006, when Marine Major Justin Constantine was assigned to work with local Iraqi leaders to get food, despite being aware that there was a sniper skulking through the streets. The sniper aimed his gun at Constantine’s head, and hit his mark.
The bullet entered behind Constantine’s ear and exited his mouth, avoiding his brain but taking his jaw, part of his tongue and most of his teeth along with it. Vision in his left eye is limited and he spent months undergoing reconstruction surgery and speech therapy. Like Giffords, Constantine was used to speaking for a living –- he is a lawyer and frequent lecturer. He was also used to being noticed for his uniform or his teaching. Now people were staring because of the way he looked.
“I’m close to what I used to look like now but for a long time it was really bad,” says Constantine, 41, of Arlington, Va. “I had scars all over my face. I drooled like crazy. I don’t have any nerves on my chin or my lower cheeks or my lips, so if I’m drooling, I can’t tell.”
To deal with the stares, Constantine and his wife designed t-shirts with the words, “Iraq and Back.” When people saw him wearing the shirts, they understood what had happened. Conversations started. Soon he was designing and selling t-shirts to other wounded warriors.
Like Giffords, Constantine’s injury occurred while in service to his country. He has no regrets over his time spent in Iraq -- in fact, he feels badly that he was only able to serve there for six weeks when so many others have served longer. Today he is preparing to start a legal job at the Department of Defense and serves on a Congressional Task Force for wounded-warrior care.
Constantine hopes after Giffords recovers, she will be able find similar solace in helping others in similar situations. “I already use what happened to me to help others,” Constantine says. “I’m happy I can be part of the solution to what some of the warriors face, after having gone through some of it myself.”
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