CAMP PENDLETON — Marines are trained to save lives and react in a quickly in the event of a crisis. For one Camp Pendleton veteran, this training is the reason he is still alive today.
For the past three decades, Larry Aney, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant and former base game warden, has taken many trips to the base’s designated hunting grounds. However, little did Aney know that his recent trip could have been his last.
For that, awards were presented June 30 to those from Security Battalion whose participation led to the successful rescue of Aney.
Those who were awarded were Cpl. Gregory Adzima, Cpl. Angelo Melendez, Sgt. Kathleen Stanford, Cpl. David Gunn and civilian military police officers Brandon Sargent, Richard Dalton and Brandon Owens.
For many years, Aney would step up on a boulder protruding over a ridge as his hunting tradition. On Nov. 6, 2010, the rock gave way, sending Aney on a 20-foot fall into the ridge below, leaving him unconscious and unable to move.
“Before I head out to my hunting spot, I would step on the boulder so I could get a good view of where I should go,” Aney said. “I guess this time it decided it didn’t want me to go anywhere.”
A few hours later, two military police officers were patrolling the hunting grounds as the hunting day was winding down and noticed an abandoned car that looked familiar.
“As soon as we saw the vehicle we knew it was the former game wardens’,” said Brandon Sargent, military police officer, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. “We knew he was very familiar with the regulations and restrictions about hunting so we figured something must be wrong.”
After closely inspecting the vehicle, both officers then radioed in the emergency.
Five of Camp Pendleton’s best military dog handlers flew into action and began the search. Authorities from local cities also pitched in during the rescue by providing helicopters and foot patrols.
“Even as the cold night came around and I was alone, I never gave up faith,” Aney said. “ I could hear the helicopters in the distance. I knew they would find me, maybe not that night or even in the morning but I just knew I was going to make it out of there alive.”
And if Aney thought it couldn’t get any worse, he woke up the next morning and found out the foliage he used the night before to keep warm were actually poison ivy leaves. To escape the terrible itch Aney began to crawl out of the ridge.
Just as Aney peeked over the ridge, he could hear two military police officers coming his way yelling his name. It was then that Aney knew everything was all right.
“This is exactly what makes my job so enjoyable,” Sargent said. “Making sure someone’s husband, father or son makes it home safe is what makes going to work worthwhile.”
Soon after his discovery, Aney was medically evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in La Jolla where he was treated for a concussion and severe cuts and bruises. He was released later that day.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who helped look for me,” Aney said. “Without everyone’s determination and courage I might not be here today.”