How war changes your mindset

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Purple Heart recipient talks about transition to student life

Amanda Paladino, Assistant News Editor

Gregory Lewis prefers to blend in as a typical student, but his experiences preceding Utica College have been anything but ordinary.

Lewis chose to join the Marines at age 17 and was deployed to Afghanistan in June, 2010. It was there that he was caught in the midst of a rooftop firefight- an AK-47 bullet piercing his right arm.

Since his endeavors at war, Lewis has been deemed a Purple Heart recipient. While the heart is a symbol of recognition and honor for his service that Lewis remains prideful of, he admits conflicted feelings considering the difficult event it represents.

“Receiving that Purple Heart is kind of a love/ hate feeling,” Lewis said. “Sure I am proud that I received that honor… but at the same time the process that comes with being awarded one is not so forgiving.”

While he’s almost 100 percent recovered, the journey has certainly not been an easy one. Lewis endured extensive surgery, has three plates and over 30 screws in his arm and has experienced copious amounts of pain and discomfort along the way. Although he is left with a large scar running the length of his right arm, it serves as a reminder of his resilience.

“My recovery process has shown me that you can push yourself to extraordinary lengths beyond what your mind and beyond what others can think is possible,” he said. “You can move forward with life, and when you come back from those injuries, you find out just how tough and strong you are.”

Lewis’ family roots played a dominant role in his initial decision to join the Marines. He noted his grandfather, uncle and cousin who have each served in various countries including Iraq and Vietnam.

“I grew up around that and I love to challenge myself,” Lewis said. “I wanted to be part of the hardest branch and world’s finest fighting force.”

In the aftermath of such life-altering events, Lewis has taken time to reflect on his experiences thus far and what they’ve taught him.

“It changes your entire mindset,” he said. “You go from this thought process of being an alpha male that is untouchable, and then you get wounded and it kind of brings you back down to ground zero.”

Lewis also emphasized the lasting impression of brotherhood that the Marines has left him with, as well as the value of life and death.

Now a senior at UC, he is majoring in Criminal Justice with an emphasis on Homeland Security and plans to pursue a firefighting career post-graduation. Lewis, whose father has been a Utica fireman for 28 years, attributes his passion towards this trajectory to his bloodline as well. He is currently a volunteer firefighter with the Clayville Fire Department.

While the lessons he’s learned from the Marines will stay with him, Lewis enjoys putting focus into the new chapter of his life as a college student.

“Most of us just try to blend in and be seen as normal college students because that’s who we are now,” he said. “We did a job for a while, but now it’s time to just relax and embrace the fun and exciting life as a student.”


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