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Juneau Marine seriously injured by roadside bomb blast

Staff Sgt. Thomas McRae was on second Afghanistan tour

Posted: January 21, 2012 - 4:26pm  |  Updated: January 22, 2012 - 1:14am

A U.S. Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician from Juneau was badly wounded in action in Afghanistan this week when he was injured by a roadside bomb.

Staff Sgt. Thomas Howard McRae, 29, was patrolling a Marine patrol base called Patrol Base Chakaw on foot on Jan. 16 to investigate an explosive threat when an improvised explosive device was detonated under him, a spokesman from his company, USMC public affairs officer Second Lt. Jim Stenger, confirmed from Afghanistan on Saturday. Both of McRae’s legs and his left arm were amputated, and he sustained injuries to his brain and to both eyes, Stenger said.

McRae was treated at four different medical facilities abroad (at the Forward Operating Base Edinburgh in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan; the British outpost Camp Bastion northwest of the capital of the Helmand Province; Bagram Air Base in the Parvan Province of Afghanistan; and finally a medical hospital in Landstuhl, Germany) until it was later determined he was stable enough to fly back to the United States. He is currently being treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.. where his parents were flown from Juneau on Saturday morning to be with him.

McRae’s sister Jessica Ryan told the Empire via email on Saturday that her brother’s condition is still stable, and that he is responsive and is undergoing follow-up surgeries.

Ryan said her brother’s left arm was amputated four inches from the shoulder, his left leg was amputated four inches above the knee and his right leg was amputated mid-thigh.

“They feel like the amputations are pretty complete so they will not be taking more inches off,” she said. “They are healing.”

A small piece of his brain — “about the size of the tip of your pinky,” Ryan wrote — was removed after he sustained damage to his right frontal lobe. He also has a right hip fracture and will get four screws in his hip, she said.

Stenger said it’s uncertain at this point if his vision can be fully restored.

“It is undetermined at this time as to whether or not he will have vision in his left eye. He received surgery to restore the vision,” Stenger said by email.

It was McRae’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan, his family said, after three tours of duty in Iraq. He was assigned to EOD Company, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), and deployed in October of 2011 from the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where he was stationed.

McRae was providing direct EOD support to Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which works out of Patrol Base Wistan. He was supporting combat operations in the area of Patrol Base Chakaw, a Marine patrol base located in the Sangin District in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

No one was else was injured in the incident, Stenger said.

EOD Company Commander Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jesse McGinnis released a statement to the Empire, saying, “SSgt McRae throughout his tenure at the EOD Company has proven himself to be a top notch team leader, mentor and friend to many of us in the Company. Hard working, tough and extremely selfless, SSgt McRae is known to go the extra mile to take care of all who serve with him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his daughter and family during this extremely tough time.”

The commanding officer recommended McRae receive the Purple Heart award for sustaining injuries in the line of duty due to direct enemy action.

McRae’s family expressed gratitude the overwhelming outpouring of support they have received from the community in Juneau.

“The phone’s ringing nonstop, we’ve had a whole bunch of support: the (Sen. Mark) Begich people and the (Sen. Lisa) Murkowski people, and everybody’s offered to help out and do as much as they can do, as well as other members of the community,” McRae’s father Tim Ryan said by phone before flying to Bethesda.

McRae’s mother, Carolee Ryan, said their son, who was born and raised in Juneau, enlisted in the Marines when he was 18 years old. He completed basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, and received EOD training in Pensacola, Fla.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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