RUSS MAREK: A Space Coast Hero

By  //  May 25, 2015

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MAREK FIGHTS TO OVERCOME TRAUMATIC INJURIES

ABOVE VIDEO: Russ Marek is a Space Coast hero and the above video illustrates his incredible and inspiring journey of courage and strength in the face of extreme adversity.

Marek-180-4 EDITOR’S NOTE: This story about Russ Marek originally appeared in Space Coast Medicine magazine in November 2007. During this Memorial Day weekend we felt it appropriate to once again recognize the incredible sacrifice Russ has, and is, making for our country. Please take a moment to reflect on Russ and his continuing challenge to navigate many small things in life that we all take for granted. We salute Russ, his family, and all those who have made considerable sacrifices to ensure our freedoms.

THIS IS WHAT WAS LEFT of the M1 Abrams Battle Tank that Russ Marek was commanding in Iraq as part of the 3rd Infantry Division. The incendiary explosive device, known as an IED, that destroyed Russ’ tank was made from a 155 mm artillery round wrapped in 1,000 pounds of explosives. The bomb blew the 23-ton turret completely off the tank’s hull and drove the front end into the ground. (Image for Space CoastDaily.com)

THIS IS WHAT WAS LEFT of the M1 Abrams Battle Tank that Russ Marek was commanding in Iraq as part of the 3rd Infantry Division. The incendiary explosive device, known as an IED, that destroyed Russ’ tank was made from a 155 mm artillery round wrapped in 1,000 pounds of explosives. The bomb blew the 23-ton turret completely off the tank’s hull and drove the front end into the ground. (Image for Space CoastDaily.com)

“From death’s doorstep to today is a long road.”

– PAUL MAREK, Father of Russ Marek

BREVARD COUNTY • SATELLITE BEACH, FLORIDA — Brevard County’s Russ Marek is a true American hero who has made incredible sacrifices for his countrymen.

ROSE MAREK BRAVES the cold at Fort Stewart, Ga. on January 31, 2005 as she visits with her son before his Army unit left for his second tour in Iraq. His sister Sarah is a U.S. Marine who drove to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC to be there when Russ arrived after the bombing. His twin brother Todd and younger brother Adam help their parents with Russ’ rehabilitation. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

ROSE MAREK BRAVES the cold at Fort Stewart, Ga. on January 31, 2005 as she visits with her son before his Army unit left for his second tour in Iraq. His sister Sarah is a U.S. Marine who drove to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC to be there when Russ arrived after the bombing. His twin brother Todd and younger brother Adam help their parents with Russ’ rehabilitation. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

The fateful day was Friday, Sept. 16, 2005, and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Russ Marek was just eight days away from coming home to Satellite Beach, Florida for his two-week “R&R” break. He was leading his team as a tank commander on a road south of Baghdad when an Iraqi insurgent’s bomb tore through the bottom of his tank, and two of the four soldiers inside were killed.

Russ doesn’t remember anything from that night. His family and his doctor agree that’s a blessing.

Marek suffered a traumatic brain injury and was burned so severely on 20 percent of his body that he lost muscle and his right ear. He also lost his right leg below the knee and his right arm below the elbow. He never lost his fighting spirit.

“It’s hard work to do all this,” Russ says, when asked about his two-year recovery that includes three hours of physical and occupational therapy each weekday, followed by two hours of exercise with his family every afternoon.

PAUL MAREK is never far from his son as Russ undergoes hours of therapy each day at Sea Pines Rehabilitation Hospital in Melbourne through a contract with the VA. Occupational therapy is helping combat the impact of his traumatic brain injury. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

PAUL MAREK is never far from his son as Russ undergoes hours of therapy each day at Sea Pines Rehabilitation Hospital in Melbourne through a contract with the VA. Occupational therapy is helping combat the impact of his traumatic brain injury. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

There’s no rest on the weekends. “I knew he was tough, but not this tough,” says his dad, local mortgage broker Paul Marek.

For one year after the attack, VA healthcare facilities were home as Russ underwent multiple skin grafts and surgeries, plus learned to use a prosthetic arm and leg. His dad can recite each milestone and date from memory, including most of the surgeries that Russ has had.

“They hover over him like he’s their own son,” says Paul. “The medical staff in every facility has just been 110 percent.”

The first thing Russ remembers after the explosion is being at the Tampa VA Hospital.

The brain injury impacted his short-term memory. He knows he received the Purple Heart, the medal his dad calls “the one no soldier wants to earn, and Russ earned it the hard way.”

The Marek family and friends gathered to honor Russ and his indomitable spirit for life, and enjoys a lighter moment during a video tribute with his family and friends. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

The Marek family and friends gathered to honor Russ and his indomitable spirit for life, and enjoys a lighter moment during a video tribute with his family and friends. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

He also was awarded the Combat Action Medal and a Bronze Star for bravery. His dad made sure every medal was awarded only when Russ was well enough to participate in the ceremony. It’s just one more way that he and his wife Rose have become advocates for their son.

“I used to joke with the nurses at the Tampa VA Hospital that when we were through there I was going to become a nurse,” says Rose, who lived in Tampa to be with Russ everyday at the hospital during his yearlong stay. “I told them I learned so much that all I would need to do was take the test.”

INSPIRATIONAL COURAGE

Russ has that same sense of humor, joking about his older twin brother Todd who he says is “two minutes older than me.”

An investigator uncovers what appears to have  detonated the explosion that destroyed Marek’s  Bradley Battle Tank, pictured in the background. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

An investigator uncovers what appears to have detonated the explosion that destroyed Marek’s Bradley Battle Tank, pictured in the background. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

He even smiles when talking about his very obvious missing right ear, which he says, “fools people because they think I can’t hear them and I actually hear better out of this ear than my left one.”

The laughs can just as quickly turn to brief, unexpected tears, a common side effect of his brain injury.

Russ graduated from Satellite Beach High and took classes at Brevard Community College before joining the Army and going off to serve in Kosovo and Germany and then two tours of duty in Iraq.

Marek-180-5

Russ with his mom Rose in November 2010. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

He had been promoted to Staff Sergeant just 14 days before that fateful mission.

Now he’s medically retired, with 100 percent disability so the VA picks up the full cost of his care. His goal is to walk unassisted with that prosthetic leg.

Long term, Russ wants to go back to college and perhaps work with the prosthetic limbs that are now so much a part of his life.


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