Staff Sergeant Paul Russell Marek, US Army (Ret), now retired with 100% disability rating, entered the US Army in February, 1998, and became "A Tanker."
Russ returned to Iraq for a second tour in January, 2005 and, on the evening of September 16, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated under his M1A1 Main Battle Tank. Two of the four crew members died in the attack. A second M1A1 tank was also destroyed in this ambush and, tragically, Marek's good friend, Sgt. Matthew Deckerd, was also killed.
The ambush was devastating to his unit and the men of Charlie Company, who referred to SSG Marek as 'Uncle Paulie'. He and his Gunner, Ryan Bowen, from Ohio, survived the attack, both sustaining life-changing injuries. SSG Marek lost his ‘dominant' limbs (right leg and right arm) and suffered a severe closed head brain injury on the right side, which completely shut down all function on his left side, technically rendering him Quadriplegic. He also sustained third degree burns to over 20% of his body and lost his right ear and left thumb in the explosion. Russ spent 13 months in a coma.
While rehabilitating in Tampa, an employee at the VA suggested he visit Winter to draw inspiration from her survival story. After the meeting where he saw Winter swim with her prosthetic tail, Russ developed a new attitude:
"If a dolphin can do this and live with a prosthetic, so can I." According to Paul, Russ's father, his meeting with Winter inspired him. His progress is remarkable; he went from using an electric wheel chair for mobility to walking with one cane. His inspirational meeting with Winter gave him the resolve to go on.