After boot camp, a superior officer asked Michael Boucher’s unit, “Who’s married?”
Those who were married put their hands up and were allowed to leave.
Then the officer asked, “Who has children?” and those with children were also dismissed.
“Finally, there were just a handful of us left,” recalled Boucher “Then they said, ‘Guess what, you guys are getting deployed.’”
Boucher, an Oconee veteran who lost both his legs in the War in Afghanistan, grew up with family members on his father’s side who served in the military.
“I did a year of college right out of high school and decided it just wasn’t for me,” said Boucher, explaining how he ended up enlisting as a U.S. Marine.
“The only branch that hadn’t been done on my father’s side was the Marines, so just to be different, I chose to go into the Marines,” Boucher said.
After completing boot camp in 2009, Boucher went to combat engineer school, where he learned about demolition, construction and route clearance. By the end of the year, Boucher was in Afghanistan.
“We basically loaded up on helicopters at two o’clock in the morning and flew out to where we were going, and they dropped us in the middle of a field,” Boucher recalled. “Our job was to clear the city [and] ... to push the terrorists outward.”
Boucher turned 21 during his first deployment in Afghanistan. He said it was hard for him to process the things he experienced there—the injuries, the lost buddies and the brutality of war.
“When I came home, I was 21 years old and I had done and seen things that a 21-year-old mind just doesn’t know how to process,” Boucher said. “And trying to deal with it yourself was very difficult.”
Three months later, Boucher was preparing for his second deployment to Afghanistan.
“For my second deployment, we were replacing a unit who had been hit very, very badly throughout their entire deployment,” he said. “There was a lot of chaos.”
On June 12, 2011, Boucher went out to do a post-blast analysis after two improvised explosive devices went off earlier that morning.
“I turned my head to see what the squad leader’s response to me was, and I heard a loud noise,” he said. “My first reaction was to look down to see if my boots were there. My cammies were just hanging limp. So I knew instantly that both of my legs were gone.”
The enemy had been watching the unit performing the post-blast analysis and detonated an IED with a garage door opener.
After Boucher was stabilized, he traveled from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to Germany to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where his remaining surgeries occurred.
“I had an infection in my left kneecap and an infection spreading to the right, so they went ahead and amputated both kneecaps,” he said. “I went through countless surgeries trying to get rid of the infections.”
Boucher at first struggled with becoming an amputee, but he eventually accepted it.
“In the beginning I questioned ‘Why me? What did I do to deserve this?’ But I quickly realized that it was very selfish to have that mindset,” he said. “Plenty of my buddies didn’t get the opportunity to come home and see their family and be here for one more day. So I changed my mindset to living my life to the fullest for those that didn’t get to come home.”
Boucher was awarded the Purple Heart.
“It was a very emotional thing for me … but it was a special thing,” Boucher said. “It carries a lot of meaning because it means that you get to come home and live for those that didn’t get to, as well as being able to continue telling their story.”