CAMP PENDLETON —Sgt. Jason Pacheco sat at a picnic table under the shade of some trees near one of the training grounds on Camp Pendleton, eating his lunch. He knew, in less than one month, he would be back in Afghanistan.
He knows there won’t be much change once he returns to the battle-ridden country; he knows it will be bad; he also knows that when he goes back, he’ll be the one who’s changed. For the 23-year-old sniper with 2 Battalion/ 4 Marines, when he goes back he’ll be seeking closure from the last time he was in country.
August 2010, Pacheco was wounded after stepping on a pressure plate IED (Improvised Explosion Device). The injury caused him to lose his right leg.
“My outlook on pretty much everything is different now,” Pacheco said. “I get a better sense of accomplishment even from just doing simple things, just things you take for granted when you’re ‘normal,’” he said.
Getting used to having the prosthetic leg has been journey, he said. “The way I can explain it: Blood, pain, sweat and tears. I know people say that all the time because it’s cliché, but I…lived it. (I) went through the pain, blood, sweat, tears; it’s been a challenge, a bumpy road, but I wanted it so bad, because I hated being in the wheelchair.
“I needed to get up and get around and be normal again.”
Without the help of his wife AnnaLeigh, Pacheco said he wouldn’t even be as far along in his progress. “She’s been there through everything, through all the pain. She’s just been something to fall back on…Whenever I’d be like, ‘Man, this is real hard,’ she would be like, ‘Keep going.’
Her motivations helped him to pass his PFTs (physical fitness test) with his prosthetic leg, earning a score of 242 points out of a possible 300. After that, Pacheco was reinstated to full-active duty – he is possibly the first amputee to be deployed.
Prior to being returned to active duty, Pacheco was working as a marksman instructor at the base’s pre-scout sniper school. The four-week courses help to prepare Marines for sniper school.
During one of his classes, Pacheco, to demonstrate to the students the different shooting positions, including supported and unsupported positioning of the rifle, removed his prosthetic leg, planted the rifle on top where the leg attaches to the knee and took a shot.
“I said, ‘See, you can use anything as a support.’ So they were freaking out and just laughing because they thought it was so funny,” Pacheco said. “Some of them didn’t even know that I didn’t have my leg,” he added.
Pacheco joined the Marines when he was 18.
“I always wanted to be a Marine and wanted to be the best of the best, so I became a sniper,” he said. He grew up shooting in his hometown of Las Vegas, NM with his step-father and cousins.
In Afghanistan, Pacheco and his Battalion gathered intelligence and provided surveillance. “We’re pretty much the eyes and ears of the Battalion,” he said. Any suspect sightings, they had, they would report back to all of the patrols coming through the area.
“It’s hot; there’s people everywhere,” Pacheco said of Afghanistan. “It doesn’t matter if you have the best spot to hide in, you’re going to get found by somebody because there’s kids and people walk around all the time. Even in the middle of the night, that’s mostly when they do their work because it’s a lot better than doing it during the day.”
Pacheco’s unit has already been deployed to Afghanistan. He said he is looking forward to returning, but he and his both agreed he needs to go for closure.
“I can’t say I’m not afraid, because then I’d be like a machine and nobody’s like that,” he said. “I’ll go and comeback the way I left.”