As an instructor at the School of Infantry, a Marine is expected to be physically fit, mentally strong and have a vast amount of knowledge in their occupational field.
With one amputated leg, Gunnery Sgt. Gabriel Guest, the chief instructor of the Advanced Machine Gunners course at Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – West, is no exception.
“When I joined the Marine Corps, I chose to join the infantry because I like action and being in the thick of things, and because of the challenge it presents,” said Guest, a native of Spokane, Wash. “The infantry is very dynamic because there are a lot of different aspects you can master like weapons or tactics.”
Guest deployed four times, three times to combat zones in his career.
His first deployment was with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, in support of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in response to the USS Cole being bombed. His second and third deployments were to Iraq with 1st Bn., 1st Marines, and his fourth and final deployment was to Afghanistan with 2nd Bn., 7th Marine Regiment.
Guest experienced his first enemy contact while deployed to Afghanistan in 2008.
“After our first engagement in Now Zad, we had to fight our way out of the city,” Guest said. “It was like that every day for the next five months. Most engagements lasted anywhere from five to 15 hours long. I never wanted to see my guys get hurt or wounded, but I still carry those memories with me today.”
After five months of constant enemy contact, Guest’s vehicle drove over a pressure plate improvised explosive device during an engagement Aug. 10, ejecting him from the vehicle and causing three different compound fractures in his left leg.
“After the dust cleared I started to look around, and I noticed my boot was next to my face,” Guest said. “I thought I was dizzy and was hallucinating until I looked down and saw the blood on my pant leg and saw the bones sticking out.”
Guest was sent to Bagram Air Force Base and many other hospitals for more than 25 surgeries after his injury.
As he recovered during physical therapy, he realized his leg wasn’t going to heal as well as he hoped, so he went through further surgeries.
He was offered the opportunity to work at the School of Infantry as a machine gun instructor and seized the opportunity after recovering again.
“I was the chief instructor running courses, and I was doing perfectly fine,” Guest said. “I was working with weapons and doing regular infantry stuff again when I started to feel ill and my leg started hurting.”
His leg became continuously infected because of constant physical training and he was left with only three options: fuse his leg straight allowing no bending in the knee, perform a total knee replacement with risk of future infections that could be fatal, or amputation of the leg. He chose to amputate the leg and had the operation performed Oct. 10, 2012.
“Choosing to have my leg amputated was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life because it is losing part of myself,” Guest said.
Guest took a week off work for his amputation because of his dedication. He continued to recover from the operation while he returned back to instructing Marines.
“The Marine Corps made the Expanded Permanent Limited Duty program for Marines like myself who are wounded warriors and want to continue being Marines,” Guest said. “I hope that I’m showing the commandant the program was a great choice because I don’t know what I would do with myself if I wasn’t a Marine.”
Through the EPLD program, Marines who incurred significant combat injuries that would normally restrict them from continuing their Marine Corps service are allowed to continue their careers by mentoring Marines through their leadership skills sharpened by combat experience.
Guest has instructed multiple courses and is back to full duty aside from certain physical training events since his amputation.
“It’s awesome to see him still have the same opportunities everyone else gets because he earned every bit of it,” said Cpl. Sean O’Malley, an instructor at the Advanced Machine Gunners course. “I’ve never seen him not willing to do something for any of his Marines. He puts so much into being an instructor because he knows the Marines he is teaching may find themselves in the same combat situations he found himself in years ago. He wants each and every one of them to come back alive.”
Guest said one of the reasons he loves instructing Marines is because he is able to show them the reality of combat with the loss of his leg.
“I have had friends who were amputees who started drinking more and became depressed after losing their limbs, but Gunnery Sgt. Guest is not one of those people,” said O’Malley, a native of Chicago. “He is more active than a lot of people who have both of their legs.”
Despite losing his left leg, Guest still actively swims and physically trains as he did before the amputation.
Guest plans to return to an infantry battalion and continue to deploy overseas after finishing his time as an SOI instructor,
“Once someone loses a limb from their body, it makes them appreciate the little things in life,” Guest said. “It makes them understand how limited humans are, but it also lets them know how endless the potential is.”