By Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — Wounded by a Taliban-trained fighter, Sgt. Ben Thompson finished his patrol, then was back in the fight two days later.
“I could have used another couple days, one or two, to rest up,” he says.
The Naperville native, who served in the Marine Corps, received a Purple Heart from his tour in Afghanistan.
His father had served, as had his brother Matt, who enlisted right before Sept. 11, 2001.
“I really looked up to my brother.” Thompson said. “And I love my country.”
Now 28, living in Champaign and a University of Illinois senior in technical systems management, he also is the chief operating officer of EarthSense, a start-up which makes TerraSentia, an autonomous robot that can operate under crop canopies.
So the guy keeps busy.
Thompson enlisted in 2008, seven years after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, and found himself in southern Helmand Province the next year. He spent four years in the Marines, then served in the reserves another four.
Thompson was one of many who served during “the Surge.”
A coterie of officers led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Gen. David Petraeus and Admiral Mike Mullen believed that a massive troop deployment could turn around the situation in the conflict that began in 2001.
Thompson’s Marine unit was sent to build an isolated firebase in the Afghan province.
“We slept in a hole in the ground,” Thompson said. “There was no running water.”
The Marine was assigned to a quick-reaction force, usually employed to rapidly assist allied units in need.
On one mission, the QRF was moved forward to hunt for two men believed to be deploying improvised explosive devices.
“I was about to call home. Then we were told we were mounting up,” Thompson said.
“These were Taliban, or trained by Taliban. They were setting up IEDs, and we really wanted to catch these guys.”
He went after one of the insurgents working on an IED.
“It was a hairy situation. It was like playing hide and seek, except he was trying to kill me,” Thompson said. “He found me first.”
His adversary’s weapon of choice was a grenade.
“It landed near me and put a hole in my hip,” the Marine said. He was able to fire back. Then, injured, Thompson asked his fellow Marines: “Could you elaborate on the hole in my hip?”
He finished the patrol and was treated at a base. He’s fine now.
“I came back with all my fingers and toes,” Thompson said.
It was time to go to college.
He’s not planning on going to graduate school — he wants to jump right into the working world.
Besides his start-up, Thompson is also working on a web application designed “to help veterans who might be struggling” after their traumatic experiences.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.