Story and photos by Sgt. James Mercure
COMBAT OUTPOST PENNSYLVANIA, Afghanistan – If someone saw how fierce Sgt. Phil Farmer is during a firefight, they would never guess he only has one fully functioning lung.
Farmer is a squad leader with 3rd platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and on his third combat deployment. He leads his Marines on patrols, finds improvised explosive devices and has partnered with Afghan National Security Forces to help make Afghanistan a safer place.
On his second deployment, Farmer, a 30-year-old Matawan, N.J., native, had his observation post in Ramadi, Iraq struck by a suicide bomber driving a dump truck laden with explosives and chemicals, releasing a noxious cloud of gas after the massive explosion.
After the blast, a complex ambush ensued.
“I fired my .50 cal machine gun as the truck drove toward my post, and after it blew up, they fired volley after volley of rockets on our position, disabling my .50 cal. So I ducked down, grabbed an M240 Bravo machine gun, and me and my guys opened up on the insurgents. We didn’t stop fighting for another three and a half hours. It was chaos.”
Two weeks after the attack, Farmer coughed up blood, but he felt fine after and continued to push on with his deployment.
“When I got back to the States, the doctor thought I had asthma until he walked in with an X-ray and said my lung had essentially sealed off like a burnt cigarette wrapper during the deployment,” Farmer said. “My only real concern throughout the whole process was being able to still serve as a Marine.”
Farmer now has the symptoms of Bronchial Inflammation Disease and must use and inhaler from time to time, but the Marines he serves with wouldn’t have known about the issue unless he told them.
“We served together as instructors at the School of Infantry, and he’s working for me again here,” said Staff Sgt. Adam York, platoon sergeant, 3rd platoon Bravo Co., 1st Bn., 8th Marines, and a 30-year-old Plymouth, N.H. native. “After he was injured in Iraq, you would think that would make someone take it easy, but Sgt. Farmer hasn’t stopped, he hasn’t slowed down, and he refuses to quit his Marines or himself. It’s his ability to lead from the front that sets him apart. For example, if his squad finds a suspected improvised explosive device, he verifies the find instead of sending one of his junior Marines.”
For Farmer, the reason he has been able to carry on in stride despite having one lung is his training as a Marine.
“It’s the Marine mindset that allows you to conquer anything,” Farmer said with a faint New Jersey accent. “The stories I read about Marine amputees still deploying or winning marathons motivates me, and if they can do it, I have no excuse not to keep moving forward.”