In November 2006, just five years ago, John Lockwood arrived in a medically induced coma at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., while his worried family, who had rushed to be at his side, bought their Thanksgiving dinner from a vending machine.
Lockwood had been deployed at Camp Baharia just outside Fallujah, Iraq in September. On Nov. 19, while on patrol in a Humvee, he was severely wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) – one of 32,213 American wounded. The explosion took his buddy’s life – one of 4,469 American troops killed in action in Iraq.
Two factors helped to keep Lockwood from becoming another KIA: his body armor and the infrastructure that made it possible for him to get rapid medical attention.
Bob Conradi The Washtenaw Voice
Bob Conradi The Washtenaw Voice
Helped on-site by a corpsman, he was transported within an hour to a well-equipped M.A.S.H. unit at neighboring Camp Fallujah. After being stabilized, he was flown to a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany where the coma was induced. After a few days he was taken to Maryland, where he remained for more than four months.
Lockwood underwent so many surgeries to reconstruct his shattered body that he lost count after 30. The explosion had torn into his left side causing major damage to his left leg, arm and head.
He sustained a frontal lobe contusion, which, among other things, damaged the part of his brain that controls inhibitions. Consequently he was difficult to live with for a while.
“No filter,” said Lisa, his wife.
He also lost his left eye. Lockwood now has a lot of metal in his body, mostly pins inserted by doctors to repair damaged bones. But he also has metal of another kind, shrapnel. Occasionally, small pieces can emerge through his skin in a process sometimes called “freckling” or “peppering.”
Once, a boot-shaped piece of dark metal about a centimeter in length surfaced on his leg and he had it removed at the VA hospital. Lockwood thinks it may be a fragment of his late friend’s M-16 that was propped just below his leg when the IED ripped through the bottom of the Humvee. He keeps it in a vial at his home.
Lockwood has also had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “As I’ve heard others say, it consumes 30 seconds of every minute of your day,” Lockwood said. Still, he is coping. The nightmares, for the most part, have subsided.
“It’s always something you just kind of roll with,” he said stoically.
But this tragic event did not destroy Lockwood’s spirit. With the help of friends and family, he is not just surviving but thriving.
Lockwood had once looked forward to a career as a police officer. He first worked part-time in the Saline Police Department under the direction of Sgt. Jay Basso, his field-training officer (FTO). Next, he transferred to a full-time position that became available in the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, where his officer training continued.
He and Lisa married in 2005 and moved into a house in Saline that he inherited from his grandfather. Having enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves, he was called to active duty just 15 months later. He was only in Iraq about two months when the IED redirected his life.
When friends and acquaintances back in Michigan learned of Lockwood’s plight, they mobilized to help. His former supervisor, Sgt. Basso, along with Sgt. Steve Armstrong from the sheriff’s department organized a fundraiser. The event, a spaghetti dinner, was orchestrated with the help of the American Legion, the VFW, the Saline Fire Department and a host of others.
The Ann Arbor auction service, Braun and Helmer, was tapped to auction donated items. The Detroit Red Wings and Tigers donated signed jerseys that Basso had framed for the auction. Local businesses donated a variety of products. The Merillat Cabinet Company donated an entire wet bar to be auctioned. Area teachers who had worked with Lockwood’s mother, Ruth, organized a bake sale.
At the dinner, Lockwood’s sister, Katie, represented the family, while his wife and parents were still with him in Maryland. The parents of the soldier, Lance Cpl. Jeremy Shock, who was killed in the attack, drove up from Tiffin, Ohio, for the event. John Lockwood managed to address the crowd by telephone from the Naval hospital. There were not many dry eyes in the place, according to Basso.
In spite of sleety weather, the event was very well attended and raised about $15,000.
In the meantime, John’s wife, Lisa was having an epiphany. She had once been interested in police work, and had met her husband during officer training. After marriage, she returned to school to study art. Hospitals just scared her – until her husband’s extended stay.
While with John in the Naval Medical Center, “I really fell in love with the whole (nursing) profession,” Lisa said. She enrolled in the nursing program at Eastern Michigan University, and plans to graduate next December.
Of course, John Lockwood’s life was redirected too. Due to his injuries, he was unable to fulfill all the expectations of a regular police officer. Although his employer was very accommodating, he learned of a dispatcher job opportunity closer to home, so he rejoined the Saline Police Department.
He also joined a group called Operation Never Forgotten (ONF), a group that raises awareness of the sacrifices made by America’s soldiers. He had become acquainted with John Kinzinger, a Vietnam veteran and an advocate for veterans. They were both in the Ann Arbor VFW post. Kinzinger brought John on board ONF, where he now serves as the campaign director for wounded warriors.
John provides feedback on billboard layouts, advises, brainstorms and helps with communications.
“His feedback represents all wounded warriors,” said Linda Kelly, founder and president of ONF.
After about a year of working as a full-time dispatcher, the government informed him that he was making too much money. He would need to work less or be disqualified from the Social Security Disability Insurance benefits he was receiving.
Lockwood was upset. He felt that the government had misinformed him previously. Nevertheless, he did the math and found that he would come out ahead if he worked less. By foregoing fulltime employment he could retain benefits for himself and his family and would save on child care costs.
Yes, child care. About two and a half years after his injury, Lockwood’s wife gave birth to twins, Benjamin and George. One of the first to be told about the pregnancy was John Kinzinger.
“There’s one part of him that wasn’t damaged,” Kinzinger said. When the twins were born, Kinzinger bought them matching “ones-ies” styled after Marine Corps uniforms.
And John Lockwood soon became Daddy Day Care.
“The kids bring both of us so much joy,” Lisa said. John credits his wife and children in helping him through rough patches in his rehabilitation. Teamwork is the key to their marriage.
“She has the babies; I watch them,” John said. In the meantime, she is expecting again – another boy.
John now works six days per month on the graveyard shift for the Saline police. His supervisor is Basso, his former FTO. Regarding Lockwood’s mental state, Basso said he remains the same man he knew before his injuries.
“I would call him one of the good guys,” Basso said. “I would love to have him full-time in any capacity.”
The Lockwood family is often seen walking together near their Saline home. All who know John Lockwood are impressed by his remarkable resilience.