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Marine Cpl. Tim Read struggles to tighten a bolt under his car at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot hobby shop garage in San Diego, Calif.. He says he's determined to live with the loss of a leg and a scarred body by working on his beloved Mustang.
photos by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times
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Date published: 1/6/2013
Los Angeles Times
SAN DIEGO--Marine Cpl. Timothy Read, who lost a leg in Afghanistan and has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, is applying some Rustoleum to a new drive shaft for his prized 2003 Mustang Mach 1.
It's more than just a hobby. Working on cars and motorcycles, Read said, fills the aching void in his life left when his war wounds stripped him of the ability to be a combat Marine.
"My hands are meant to be dirty," he said. "I'm meant to be busting my knuckles, doing a man's work."
With other injured Marines, Read souped up a custom-made motorcycle for last summer's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
He'll be in Peru this month as a ride-along mechanic for a Land Rover Discovery for a team of wounded U.S. and British military personnel during the 6,000-mile Dakar Rally. The team is sponsored by an organization called Race2Recovery, supported by the royal family.
And when he's not busy in San Diego at therapy appointments or other things, Read spends time working on his car at the auto center at the Marine boot camp. Other wounded Marines are doing the same on their cars.
"They're putting their cars back together, but what they're really doing is putting their lives back together," said Richard Siordian, assistant manager of the auto center and a retired Navy corpsman.
Read's therapist, a specialist in helping wounded veterans, agrees.
Nancy Kim, a psychologist at the Naval Medical Center San Diego's Comprehensive Combat and Casualty Care facility, said that working on vehicles helps Read and other wounded personnel "regain a sense of productivity, purpose and achievement that may have been lost at the time of their injury."
Fixing a transmission or installing new brake pads or maybe finding just the right setting for the carburetor, "can serve as a healthy coping strategy to help the combat veteran manage anxiety, depression, irritability and anger," Kim said.
For Read, the work helps him recapture something that he lost in Afghanistan: a sense that the world makes sense if only you can put the parts together correctly.
"It's easy to accept a physical wound, but it's hard for a Marine to accept that his mind is all [messed] up," said the 23-year-old, who left for boot camp just days after graduating in 2007 from high school in Starkville, Miss.