Marine Lance Cpl. Tomy Parker, who lost both legs and a hand in Afghanistan, has entered a new realm of freedom in the form of a new four-door Dodge Ram 1500 pickup with a hand-controlled driving system and mechanical lifts for both himself and his wheelchair.
“It’s amazing,” he said Wednesday after ordering lunch at the Atomic Café in Helena. “To be able to decide where I want to go and when I go and when I want to leave — I felt like an adolescent child for a while.”
Parker, 22, living since February in San Diego to receive medical treatment and be near his Marine buddies, got the truck late last week, thanks in part to some Veterans Administration grants. He drove the new rig from his home in Ronan on Wednesday, encountering a little weather on MacDonald Pass, to have the hand controls inspected by the VA.
“They work. I drove here,” he said. “It was all new, driving in snow with hand controls and everything.”
Parker’s stepfather, Tim Corbett, accompanied him on the trip but is now confident the young man has the truck under control.
“It’s really one of the first big steps of independence and self-sufficiency, which is what we want to get to, and he wants to get to,” Corbett said.
Among other things, Parker’s mother may be able to come home soon. She’s been staying with her son for more than a year, in San Diego and at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland before that.
“Don’t let it buck you off,” said Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who joined Parker for lunch, as the Marine worked the controls to get himself into the driver’s seat.
Parker plans to drive the rig to San Diego soon to continue his medical care.
He’s also been recently fitted with a prosthetic hand, which should help him with other everyday activities, such as cooking.
The truck was customized by A&M Mobility in Missoula. The under-vehicle lift for the driver is a relatively new feature, he said. A large arm with a hook secures the wheelchair. The license plates read “NOLGS.”
Reflecting on the lessons of his injury and recovery, Parker cites lyrics of a song by the band Nickelback, urging listeners to live every day as if they were dying.
“There’s a good possibility that I could get in my truck and get on the road and die on the way home, or I could die eating my lunch,” he said.
“You never know when its going be your time,” he said.
Looking ahead, he said he’d love to run for political office someday. But he plans to earn a couple of degrees first.
“I still have some learning to do,” he said.
Parker deployed to Afghanistan in September 2010 and was injured Dec. 11, 2010.
“I really wanted to so something with my life. I was 19 and floating idly,” he said of his decision to enlist. “I don’t really regret it. I chose to serve knowing the possibilities, and knowing that we were in a war time, knowing what could have happened. I mean, it could have been a lot worse. I could have very well not been sitting here talking to you.”
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086, email@example.com or Twitter.com/IR_SanjayT