Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- There are countless threatening missions and operations taking place daily in Operation Iraqi Freedom, some of which are convoy operations.
Improvised explosive devices and ambushes from insurgents are the main threat to convoys. An artilleryman from 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, returned home in March after surviving an unfortunate convoy incident.
Corporal Mark N. Novello, a battery artillery maintenance chief with Headquarters Battery, started his career in the Marine Corps Sept. 11, 2002, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who was a former Marine.
“After I graduated high school in 2001, I told myself if I don’t make it into college or land a great job I’m joining the military,” said Novello. “Regardless of that, I thought it would be best anyway.”
The 21-year-old Los Angeles native was assigned to Lima Battery, 3/11, after his school training. He deployed to OIF for the first time as an artillery mechanic in February 2003 and returned late September.
He deployed for a second time Feb. 22, 2004 with Lima Battery’s advance party.
“Our company’s mission was provisional military police, providing convoy security,” said Novello.
For a period of time, his unit was tasked with escorting Iraqi government officials to a courthouse in Ramadi, Iraq.
“Our convoy was providing security in a courthouse in Ramadi one afternoon late in March ,” began Novello with the disastrous story. “We had just finished eating chow and we got orders to make our way back to base camp. Another convoy made its way to the courthouse just after us so we linked up and trekked back to camp together. Two blocks off the main supply route, I noticed that streets were looking bleak. Right then a big explosion rang out right next to our vehicle, which was the second in the convoy. It was an [improvised explosive device] that came from the other side of the road-about 100 feet away from us. I was stunned for a moment after I felt sand, rock and debris hit my face. I couldn’t see. At that moment, I quickly reacted and got out of the vehicle. I took one step out and instantly fell to the ground.”
Novello took a shot from an inch-long piece of shrapnel into his ankle. He was shocked by both the situation and the sensation in his leg.
“When I hit the ground, I looked at my leg and found my trousers soaked with blood,” continued Novello. “But my attention was quickly turned to some flames coming from underneath the humvee. I looked toward the driver, and he was hunched over, sitting motionless. I feared that he wasn’t alive. I yelled at everyone to get out of the [humvee].”
Marines from other vehicles of the convoy rushed to his vehicle. Sergeant. Maxy K. Brown, mechanic with maintenance platoon, Mike Company, Combat Service Support Group 3, came to lift up Novello from the ground.
“I told him to not to worry about me and to get the driver,” said Novello. The driver of his vehicle was Cpl. Raul A. Camacho, Lima Battery. “I took one step on my own and fell again. Another Marine removed Camacho from the vehicle, and [Brown] hoisted me on his shoulders and rushed me out of the area. The corpsman looked at my ankle, and I just saw my metal boot band sticking out of my foot. I thought to myself, ‘this can’t be good.’”
Fortunately no one was killed in the incident and there was not a firefight. The convoy continued its mission back and all casualties were taken to the Army Medical Center in Junction City, Iraq. From there, Novello was flown via helicopter to a hospital in Baghdad, where he was further treated and then flown to a hospital in Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq.
“I had a grip on what was going on after a few hours in a few hospitals,” said Novello. “The doctors told me that my boot band saved my foot from being amputated.”
Novello called his wife from the hospital moments before he departed Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq.
From Camp Al Taqaddum, he was flown via helicopter to Germany where doctors spent a week and a half repairing his ankle.
Medical officials declared he had minor nerve damage and was missing 40 percent of his tibia, the shinbone.
Novello later arrived at Bethesda Hospital in Washington, D.C., where his wife met him.
“My wife [Jennifer] gave me the support and comfort I needed,” said Novello. “She was there the whole time I needed her. I was in a lot of pain and she comforted me. She helped me get around. She made me happy. If it wasn’t for her, I probably would still be disabled.”
The motivation from his wife and four children led to a speedy recovery for Novello. In April, a year after the incident, Novello passed his physical fitness test.
“It makes me very proud to hear about Marines undergoing such difficulties and getting back on track,” said Lt. Col. Douglas H. Fairfield, 3/11’s commanding officer. “Marines like Cpl. Novello are outstanding examples of dedication and commitment to our battalion. Suffering from a shrapnel wound in his foot and coming back to pass a PFT a year later is very impressive.”
Novello wanted to fight back at the situation by proving he could get back to his duties.
“I really wanted to show my kids a good example,” said Novello. “That you have to fight hard for what you want; nothing will ever be handed to you. This is what I did. I fought hard. I owe a lot of this to my wife for giving me the physical and mental strength. I led myself to recover quickly for the love of my kids and their future.”
Novello received the Purple Heart for his wounds. After facing adversity, Novello and his family decided to extend his career as a Marine by reenlisting in October.
“I love the [Marine Corps],” said Novello. “There are no other jobs that can match this. The Marines earn and are instilled leadership here – something that can’t be taught; something that is not learned in college.”
Novello resides with his wife and children, Clarissa, Anthony, Jack and Emmilee, in the Combat Center’s Adobe Flats.