One of the soldiers featured in the documentary "To Iraq and Back" is Cpl. Jeff Landay, who suffered a devastating brain injury during a roadside attack in Iraq.
Landay still has all the tenacity and grit befitting a U.S. Marine as he strives to recover, but his 160-pound frame displays the evidence of a turbulent tour of duty in Iraq.
Landay was 19 when his regiment shipped out to the war zone at the beginning of 2005.
He was injured in May when the explosion from a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) damaged his liver, kidney and spleen. It broke his jaw and crushed his skull, and the shattered bone penetrated the left side of his brain.
"We were going home, and when we went left, all I remember is something in the ground, and after that I don't remember anything," Landay said.
The blast killed Landay's gunner and seriously wounded three others. Landay was barely alive, but somehow summoned the strength to drive the vehicle out of harm's way.
"They all thought that was Jeff's last act … to get that truck to safety to get his comrades out," his mother, Michelle Landay, said.
Military doctors were able to keep Landay alive by removing a large section of his skull to relieve the swelling in his brain. "To see it in person was devastating. It was very unsettling," his mother said.
Landay and his mother first met with me at Bethesda Naval Hospital last fall after surgeons repaired Landay's skull with an implant, and he could barely speak.
Since then, Landay has returned home to California with his family. With his mother's help, he is now working to rebuild his life. She left her job and became an advocate for her son's care, ensuring he got the medical attention he needed. Rehabilitation in the first year after brain injury is crucial.
But medical complications and disputes with the VA have left Landay without any therapy in the last six months. His mother is helping him study words with flash cards, but she said it's been frustrating to see him go without rehab. "He was supposed to be in therapy by December, but it didn't happen," she said. "I'm just trying to keep him going, but we've been very frustrated trying to get him into rehab."
They are beginning to see glimmers of hope, and supportive cards that local school kids have sent Landay are helping him recover some of his language skills.
"I am totally stunned that he is able to function like he is, considering the devastating brain injury that he had," Landay's mom said. "It is amazing."
Landay said he still doesn't remember a lot of things, but he's happy to be alive.
He dreams of once again donning his Marine Corps dress blues. Even if he doesn't wear them again, there is no denying that, in this Marine, there is plenty of fight left.