RONAN — Ronan native Tomy Parker came home to Montana 10 years ago after serving in Afghanistan.
Longtime residents may remember the emotional homecoming at the Missoula International Airport as the young Marine arrived and was quickly surrounded by cheers and proud community members. In a clip from 2011, Parker told MTN News, “There are emotions flying everywhere.”
Parker joined the Marines after high school. He’ll tell you his motive was anything but heroic. At the time, he was just a kid looking for direction. Thus, the military came calling. Only 10 days after his 21st birthday, he received his first and last assignment.
“I deployed to Afghanistan on September 28th of 2010, and it was my first deployment and my only deployment,” said Parker. “We deployed to a place called Sangin, Afghanistan, which is in the Helmand province.”
Call it luck or call it tragedy, but Parker made it out of Afghanistan. However, due to a life-altering injury, the journey to where he is today wasn't always full of heroic cheers.
“The day that I got injured, December 11th of 2010, my unit was tasked with detonating some IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) that were outside of a farmer's compound. We went there, we blew it up and everything was okay, and then when we were almost back to our patrol base, I stepped on an improvised explosive device, resulting in the amputation of my right leg just above my knee, my left leg at my hip, and all the fingers on my left hand, save my thumb. So, ultimately it left me 4 foot 2, 220 pounds and brutally handsome." - Former Marine Tomy Parker.
His battle overseas ended in an instant, but a battle back home was just beginning. Like so many of our country’s veterans, Parker fell victim to the harsh reality that comes with life after war.
“It was a long process and I made it a longer process because I lost direction and purpose in my life for a long time,” said Parker. “I decided to beta test narcotics for almost a decade, starting with opiates, meaning pain pills prescribed by doctors, eventually branching off to heroin and then to methamphetamine, resulting in me being incarcerated for altogether almost 18 months.”
Parker’s life would look drastically different had it not been for Afghanistan, but looking at the sum of his life’s experiences, he knows his sacrifice was worth it.
“There were hundreds of thousands of people that died on both sides, that lost limb, and there were Americans that went over there and fought for soil that we weren't allowed to keep, but the intangible impact that we might have made on those young lives and the generations to come, showing them that they can change their country and that it can be better... I think that the juice was worth the squeeze.” - former Marine Tomy Parker of Ronan
The decision to pull out of Afghanistan will be debated for years to come. Parker proposes that we switch our focus from arguing and assessing, to caring for a group of people returning home, many of whom are in the same position he was in 10 years ago.
“What I can speak to are the veterans that are back home, that might be three quarters a way down a bottle right now watching this or staring at their bracelet with their friend's name on it, wondering, was it worth it? Hold on while I stifle my tears….It was,” said Parker, pausing, “I urge you to find a purpose that’s outside of that bottle, and continue to push. My face looks weird cuz I'm trying not to cry, but it gets better, bro. Promise.”