June 23, 2012 started off like any other day for Sgt. Kirstie Ennis - she was on a mission of combat resupplies and troop carries.
The 21-year-old Marine from Milton was a gunner on a CH-53D flying into Now Zad, Afghanistan.
It was her second deployment to Afghanistan and she was among eight people in the helicopter: two pilots, three gunners and three people being transported.
About three hours into the flight; however, Ennis knew this mission was different.
“At about 1,500 feet the tail gunner called in that our helicopter was being spotlighted and shortly after the three crew members in the back of the aircraft called to pull power - meaning we could all sense we were flying too fast toward the ground and at the wrong angle,” Ennis said. “There was no power for the pilots to pull and shortly after, our helicopter made impact with the ground.”
Citing an on-going investigation Ennis can’t say much about the crash; however, all eight people on the aircraft survived. Ennis sustained the worst of the injuries.
She suffered a broken talus (ankle bone) resulting in a limb salvage- meaning they were able to save the foot, for now. She also had a torn rotator cuff, torn labrum, stepping of the cervical discs in her spine, full thickness facial lacerations and trauma, shattered jaw, broken facial bones, traumatic brain injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - all of which Ennis said are recovering well.
Despite her injuries, Ennis said does not regret her decision to become a Marine – her whole heart was in it.
Ennis followed a family tradition of Marine service - both her mother and father were. In 2008, after graduating from Milton High School and Pensacola Junior College with her Associates of Arts at 17, she joined the Marine Corps.
“My parents instilled in me that if I was going to dedicate myself to something, I had better do it to the best of my ability; to never let my mind get the best of me; to stand up for what is right,” she said. “Discipline and respect were huge aspects in my home, looking back I may not have realized it, but those were the best aspects my parents could have raised me with.”
Ennis is now part of the Wounded Warrior Battalion in San Diego and is working on her Master’s Degree in Human Behavior through National University.
After completing her five-year commitment with the Marines this year, Ennis plans to continue in school to receive a Ph.D in Psychology.
“I am a firm believer in paying it forward,” Ennis said. “There have been a lot of people to help me along my recovery process. I want to turn around and help those who have suffered from similar situations.”
Ennis wants to one day work with Veterans Affairs or stay close with military mental health to help service members who are struggling with disorders like PTSD.
The Emerald Coast Young Marines will be hosting a luncheon honoring Ennis at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Elks Lodge, 127 W. Pine Ave., Crestview.