“Our nations went to war together, so this is a great opportunity for our injured veterans to heal together,” said Lee Woodruff, co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “We are pleased to be a part of this effort to generate awareness and ensure that our veterans are thriving on both sides of the Atlantic.”
And to that end, medically-retired Marine Sgt. Kirstie Ennis was selected by the Bob Woodruff Foundation to represent the United States for Walking With The Wounded’s Walk of Britain expedition.
The Milton, Fla., resident will join wounded British veterans to trek 1,000 miles — through Scotland, Wales and England — in an effort to highlight the extraordinary determination of those injured in combat.
Determination is a word that’s long been a part of the Marine’s vocabulary.
She joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17, shortly after she graduated Milton High School — with not only her diploma — but an associate’s degree from Pensacola Junior College, in 2008.
Joining came with a small hitch. Because she wasn't 18, she would need parental permission. While her father, who had served in the Corps, had hoped she'd continue her college studies first, he reluctantly said yes … after making her promise she'd be taking a desk job.
She would owe dad an apology.
Far from a desk, Ennis served as a helicopter door gunner and airframes mechanic on the CH-53D/E Sea Stallion, with two deployments to Afghanistan. She was highly-motivated and loved being a Marine.
She planned to make a career out of the Corps. Orders to the drill field were on her horizon.
Yet her world came crashing down all around her, literally, June 23, 2012.
While performing combat resupply missions to Now Zad, Afghanistan, her helicopter went down. She has little memory of the accident, but believes they were being spotlighted by insurgents beforehand.
Fortunately, all eight crewmembers survived; however, the mishap led to 38 surgeries for injuries including facial trauma, damage to her cervical and lumbar spine, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury, and left foot limb salvage.
Her recovery has included speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, vestibular therapy, and cognitive therapy over the past three years.
It also meant the end of her career.
Never one to let a challenge stand in her way, she has found healing in competitive sports.
“I am extremely blessed to still be here today, because I lost brothers and sisters due to the war … But I know they have been looking down on me, giving me the extra push to keep going. I cannot quit, nor give up because of them. I am here, breathing, living, and walking for them — I was lucky enough to come home; I'm carrying their memory with me and will continue telling their stories.”
Ennis took gold in the 2013 Marine Corps Trials for rifle shooting. She received three gold medals in swimming at the 2013 Warrior Games.
She has completed several triathlons, and finished an Ironman. Currently, she is a 2018 Paralympic hopeful in snowboarding — currently ranked fifth internationally.
It was through her involvement with Disabled Sports USA (a BWF grantee) that Ennis was introduced to the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Beyond athletics, she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from National University, in 2012, followed by her master’s in 2013.
She is now completing her master’s in business administration.
“All I need is the confidence that I can continue overcoming challenges regardless of the disabilities I carry now.”
Though the Walk of Britain does not begin until Aug. 22, the Bob Woodruff Foundation brought Ennis to London, June 4, to meet the team and the hosts of the event, Walking With The Wounded, a charity in the UK established to support the employment aspirations and vocational outcomes of wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, those who have been physically, mentally and socially disadvantaged by their service.
It has already gained the support of Prince Harry who is Patron of the expedition and helped to launch the Walk Of Britain in March this year. Prince Harry, a combat veteran himself, is expected to join a portion of the walk.
Ennis looks forward to meeting the prince again, as she did when he visited the 2013 Warrior Games, in Colorado Springs, Colo.
More importantly, she looks forward to bonding with her British teammates.
“I want to gain knowledge, and in turn motivation from hearing and sharing stories with the team, gain new friendships and express my appreciation to my allied brothers and sisters. I want the public, the world, to gain awareness as to just how precious our military and heroes are.”
The Bob Woodruff Foundation plans to add a second American veteran to the expedition, before its start in Scotland. The team will finish in London, Nov. 1.
Beyond the core team, sponsors of the walk have been assigned their own weeks, during which additional walkers can take part. For BWF, that will take place Sept. 21–28, in Wales, beginning at historic Caernarfon Castle, birthplace of the first Prince of Wales, before tackling the highest mountain in Wales, Mount Snowdon.
More on the Walk Of Britain can be found here.
Update: Kirstie will be joined on the Walk of Britain by fellow Marine Andrew Bement: