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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inspirational Profiles: Cpl. Aaron Mankin and the Gift of Acceptance

 What would you do if fire destroyed your face? How would you respond if you suddenly realized that your "Hollywood good looks" were no more? How could you learn to accept yourself, and help others to accept you, when you no longer looked like the person you once were? Would you let scars define you for the rest of your life? These were all questions that young Aaron Mankin had to ask himself.
 Aaron joined the Marines in 2003 and became a combat correspondent, a front line reporter for the Marine Corps. In 2005, he was deployed to Iraq. Camera in one hand and a rifle in the other, Aaron's job was to document the daily operations of his unit and to give a firsthand account of their mission. On May 11, 2005, Aaron set off with his fellow Marines for the day's work. On the way to their destination, a large IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that was planted in the road exploded underneath the vehicle Aaron and several other Marines were riding in. The vehicle rolled and instantly burst into flames. Six brave Marines lost their lives and the rest, including Aaron, were airlifted out with serious injures, many of which were burns. Initially, Aaron was sure he was going to die. But God had different plans for him...
 His mom, Diana Mankin-Phelps, talks about Aaron's long journey to recovery in her book, A Mother's Side of War. What attracted Aaron to those who treated his injuries, was his amazing faith and sense of humor. He had a gift of being able to accept the situation and say, " I can live with that." As his mom writes,
 "Within the first couple of days, Aaron had won the hearts of all those who would be caring for him...They would come into his room just to talk or to see if he was comfortable. He was given the nickname "The Hugmister," because of his generous and loving spirit of thankfulness when anyone would do anything for him, no matter how small."

  For months, Aaron endured countless surgeries to attempt to put his marred face back together again. After a long road of many experimental treatments and operations, Aaron was put in touch with a newly-formed group called "Operation Mend," which provides free facial reconstruction for our injured veterans at the UCLA medical facility. Their goal is to help give the wounded back their dignity. Aaron was the first patient that they assisted. As a result of his involvement with this organization, Aaron began to be a spokesman for wounded warriors. His first speech was at a USO event in 2008. His poise and articulateness impressed those in attendance, and he began to be sought after for other veteran-related events. With the same faith and hilarious sense of humor that  had carried him through so many trying days, he now took the stage as an incredible example of acceptance and thankfulness.

  Over the last few years, Aaron has not only become a voice for wounded warriors but also has helped to change the perception of how the public views those whose lives have been changed by war. Leaving many audiences laughing and totally disarmed of any uncomfortableness associated with his appearance, Aaron brings a sense of joy to those around him, even though he has gone through so much adversity. 
  Aaron's story has inspired me in many ways. The challenges he has overcome have allowed him to empathize with others and understand their pain. He knows that not all wounds are seen, that the unseen wounds oftentimes hurt more than those on the outside.  Why does he know this so well? Aaron has not only dealt with his long physical recovery, but he has also been raising his two small children on his own, having gone through a difficult divorce part-way into his recovery. Aaron has learned how to pick up the pieces of his life and attempt to turn everything into a positive. He is continually thankful, realizing every day that he is a blessed man, regardless of his circumstances. As he tries to move forward with his life, he is sharing his journey with others, appearing on TV shows and at public events in order to spread his message of hope.
  Even more, his acceptance of his altered appearance is refreshing in a world that makes so much of physical looks. He will tell you that, once he reached "a point of acceptance,"  he told himself that this injury would not define who he was as a person, nor where he chose to go with his life afterwards. Aaron knows that, even though the external has changed, the same beautiful person he used to be is still inside of him. With the truth of this fact, he has gone on to do amazing things. For him, beauty really is "only skin deep." 
 So...what would you do? Would a fiery inferno have the final say in your life? Would you let the loss of your "good looks" define how you saw yourself for the rest of your life? As Aaron will tell people, so much of life is about choices. Even though we can't control the things that happen to us, we can control how we respond to them...and Aaron has responded well.

* A Mother's Side of War is available anywhere books are sold and is copyrighted 2013 by AuthorHouse