Mt. Baker Black Diamond

Retired Marine Corporal Todd Love, became a triple amputee when he stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan, in 2010. He fought alongside the men of 1st Recon Battalion, Bravo Company, 1st Platoon. At the end of that deployment 46 men were wounded in action, to include double and triple amputees like Todd. Members of Bravo 1 have reunited every year for the last decade to celebrate life, and at times, face physical challenges together. Although most of them have left active duty, they continue to live by a creed. Their commitment to each other does not end.

In June of 2019, they climbed Mount Baker in Washington State with their wounded. Andrew Dyer led the expedition. He’s a highly experienced mountain guide. And, as a corporal, he was the point man for his element in Bravo 1. He said the fighting they experienced in the first part of their deployment was very different from what they would see later. “We were in gunfights in the morning and at night, we called them Tic Times, but honestly it was kind of fun. Nobody was getting hurt.”

He said they got into a rhythm and knew what to expect, but the second part of their deployment was in the deadly province of Sangin. He considered their initial fighting to be the best preparation for what would come. “If we would have gone straight into Sangin, I think half of us would have died for sure,” said Andrew.

The men of 1st Recon Battalion, Bravo Company, 1st Platoon. (Photo courtesy of GySgt William Faffler).

Their first firefight in Sangin was an eye-opening experience. “That was the first time I heard an RPG come screaming overhead.” He quickly realized that the enemy in Sangin were prepared and they wanted to fight. “It’s 2010, all the dumb Taliban were dead, these guys knew what they were doing,” he said. Even now, ten years later, he’s almost dumbfounded at the amount of improvised explosive devices they faced. “You walk enough in Sangin you’re going to step on an IED because they were everywhere.”

The men are located throughout the United States, but they have coordinated with each other, spending months training for the climb. They eventually convene at a house near Mount Baker for final preparations. For them, it’s kind of like getting ready for a patrol. Retired Corporal Kyle Thompson is originally from Coos Bay, Oregon. He’s quiet and reserved, and he recalls the moment his team got hit in a subdued tone. “It took me a minute to figure out what happened, I didn’t even get knocked down. Todd took most of it, and all of a sudden, I just couldn’t see. It was like you have dirt in your eyes. Then my mouth started to hurt real bad because I busted my jaw and all my teeth.” He calmly retrieved an epinephrine pen in his sleeve pocket, stuck himself and took a knee. He was completely blind, most of his teeth were blown back into his mouth or gone and his tongue was shredded.

Kyle’s great grandfather was a Marine who was wounded at the Battle of Belleau Wood. And, his grandfather fought as a Marine in World War II and was wounded on Saipan. He offered Kyle sage advice about combat. “He told me when stuff starts to happen, you can’t sit behind a rock and freak out because you’re just going to end up dying.”

With Mount Baker in the background, the men being their climb. Dave Jarvis carries Todd Love as Andrew Dyer leads the team.

To ascend Mount Baker, Kyle and the rest of the men took turns carrying Todd on their back or dragging him in a sled behind them. They also had to bring enough gear and supplies to sustain themselves for up to five days. That meant initially carrying what they could to the snowline and then half the climbers went back to the starting point to get the rest of their gear and extra food. Once they were on the snow, Todd was dragged in a sled as much as possible.

The climbers used a sled to drag Todd Love behind them whenever they were on snow.

Todd Love is funny and disarming. His favorite pastime is playing pool and he can run a table against the best. He’s very approachable and people just gravitate towards him. During a practice climb in the Pacific Northwest, Todd was at a restaurant with his brothers-in-arms when an older couple stopped to talk to him on their way out. They thanked him for his service and left him a quick note. It was a story about someone they knew who had become an amputee and they were pouring out their grief and sympathy on a bar napkin to Todd. “I get that a lot,” he said amicably. He can talk about war or God in the same instant and then quickly crack a dirty joke with his brothers, all while devouring a pub burger. His demeaner epitomizes the concept that life is for living.

His honesty and earnestness shine through, even when he talks about being blown nearly in half at the age of twenty. “I couldn’t imagine at that time in my life, stepping on bomb and surviving it.” Todd was the point man in his element for Bravo 1. He explained that in Sangin, every single step just might be the last one. “IEDS, the guys who make them know what they’re doing,” said Todd. “They put them in places you have to walk through to get to where they are.” He added, “Maybe I’m in an open field and the translator is behind me on the radio and he’s saying, ‘they’re trying to decide who wants to shoot first.’ I don’t have time to stop every time my metal detector goes off, especially if it’s going off every five feet.”

He is incredibly aware of the blind faith he had as a young Marine and how much he’s changed in the last decade. He is contemplative, but not bitter when he says, “It was a commitment, a delusional one. I think my youth helped me to do that.” Service runs in the family for Todd. “I joined the Marine Corps because of my dad,” he said. Todd’s grandfather was also a Marine. But, he clarified, he also joined because he trusted his country. “I really trusted that the things we were doing as a country were very well intended.”

Brotherhood is defined by actions. In the midst of chaos, the ones to the left and right are all that matters. And, to know that you are not alone is everything. Amongst the men of Bravo 1, brotherhood has continued. Climbing Mount Baker is not their first challenging experience as a team. They have competed, as a group, in various races and events throughout the last ten years to include the grueling Recon Challenge at Camp Pendleton in California. Todd and Andrew have wanted to do this climb for a long time. They simply enjoy being with their brothers as they push themselves into the breach of uncertainty and achieve something great. Their collective bond and unyielding commitment to each other is a powerful reminder that warriors do not stop being who they are when their service ends.

On day one, the men climb from dawn to dusk to reach their base camp at 6,000 feet. Former sergeant Damien Descant slowly inspects the Silver-dollar-sized blisters that have formed on the bottom of his feet and says, “That sucks” with a crooked smile. Damien was at the back of the patrol when Kyle and Todd got hit.

“I had a baby on the way,” Damien said. “I didn’t know if I would get to see my child, but the fear of failing my guys was overwhelming.” Enemy gunfire continued to erupt as Damien helped the platoon corpsman asses and stabilize Todd and Kyle. Damien’s eyes widen slightly when he remembers walking up to Todd. “I thought Love was dead. His amputations were so high, I thought he was blown in half.” The platoon corpsman worked on Todd while Damien assisted Kyle. Damien attempted to give Kyle morphine and accidently injected himself in the process. Kyle laughs a little as he remembers. “There’s black end and red end, Damien put his thumb on the red end and jabbed himself with 15 milligrams of morphine, it was pretty funny,” Kyle said.

Damien chalks it up to the confusion of war. “When I switched my hands, I must have rotated it, and it’s dusty and hard to see. As soon as I did it, I pulled it out of my thumb and stuck the rest in Kyle, then gave him another one.” Soon after that, Damien began to lose feeling in his left hand, which complicated his ability to help with the wounded. The men quickly realized Todd had a faint pulse and they scrambled to get a tourniquet on him. His injuries were so severe that a normal tourniquet would not work. So, they improvised with a belt and the upper receiver of a weapon.

Todd started to regain consciousness, but he still couldn’t see because of shock and blood loss. He said his legs hurt and Damien told him, “It just means everything’s working.” Damien inherently understood the gravity of the situation and what he had to do to keep his brothers alive. “It’s mental at that point,” he said. “We’ve got to lie to him because we don’t want him to circle the drain.” Damien confides, “I’m not going to lie though, the first thing that popped in my head was, ‘but Lieutenant Dan, you ain’t got no legs.’” He stifles his laughter and continues, “I had to fight the urge not to say it,” he said.

Kyle was also blind. He asked Damien if he still had a face, and Damien told him he looked fine, even though, as Damien succinctly put it, “Kyle’s face looked like swiss cheese.” Todd and Kyle had a groggy conversation with each other, dripping with gallows humor, as bullets cracked overhead. They could barely talk and basically grunted at each other, but at some point, Todd said to Kyle, “Sucks to be you.” Damien smiles when he thinks back to that moment. “It helped make the reality not so nightmarish,” he said. The men moved their wounded, under fire, into a nearby compound. They were keenly aware of something called the Golden Hour. A severely wounded service member consistently had a much better chance of surviving if they could make it to a battlefield hospital within one hour of getting wounded.