Meeting Tito Ortiz – an experience by a soldier wounded in Iraq

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How I Met Tito Ortiz.

June 3, 2007 I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a gunner during a convoy mission escorting 45 big rigs filled with diesel fuel to Camp Cedar. It was hot much like any other day during the summer in Iraq about 130 F around 10:30 am local time. I was riding in an ASV (Armored Security Vehicle) we were making good time going down the main highway in Iraq, when all of a sudden boom the cab was filled with smoke, I could not feel my left leg my left side of my buttocks was cold, and blood was pouring out of me on the hard cushioned seat. My truck commander (Jim) also the guy who saved my life came over the headsets saying what “was that what, was that!” The space was very limited in the vehicle so he couldn’t turn around to see clearly. I said” I’m hit I’m hit” was the only thing I could say.

He stopped the convoy pulled ahead of the kill zone. He dismounted opened the side hatch, and tried to get to me but was too big to squeeze in the gunner area. I could not feel my leg and could not walk. So I knew I had to get out of the vehicle diesel fuel was leaking everywhere. I pulled my whole body to the hatch with 50 pounds of body armor on grabbing at whatever I could get a grip on and inch by inch pulled myself to the hatch. Jim grabbed under my armpits and slowly pulled my body out, the vehicle sat very high off the ground and from the hatch to the tar was about a 2 and a half foot drop. He pulled me out head first and both of my feet dropped and hit the tar hard I remember a really sharp pain, and let out a sort of cry scream. He pulled me away from the vehicle and started working on me he was also an EMT, and medic. He cut off all my clothes. I remember how hot the tar was I felt like a piece of bacon in a frying pan.

I begged him for water I was so thirsty and he was reluctant to give me some knowing that this is a sign of shock we both knew that, and you what an empty stomach when you know you were heading for surgery. Some other medics showed up, and they put me on a stretcher, and assisted Jim. He put two large bore IV’s in me and morphine. The pain was so great I don’t think I noticed the morphine at the time. He told me I got hit in the ass and I would be fine little did we know that there was baseball size shrapnel inside my body that melted out a soccer ball size whole inside my perineum area. Also he didn’t know my hip, and pelvis was shattered which he told me when I saw him in the future brought him to tears once he found out that next day, saying if he had known that he wouldn’t have moved me so much and rolled me to my side. I knew I had to keep my mind off the injury to prevent myself from going into shock. I had to do everything I could to increase my chances of living. I remember calling one medic a fat a** to keep mind off it. He knew what I was doing, and played along he said a fat a** well know morphine for you. They kept working about 40 minutes went by, and finally a helicopter showed up to take me off to a tent hospital. They transferred me to a more proper gurney, and strapped me in. It was just one guy working on me that was in the helicopter and the pilot. I remember how hard he was working, and fast I saw him pinch his hand and draw blood on a pinch point somewhere in the helicopter. Once again I knew I had to keep my mind distracted so I just looked out the side of the helicopter looking at the sand as we flew by trying to enjoy the scenery so to speak.

We finally arrived at the base with the tent hospital there was a whole team of surgeons and nurses waiting just for me they rushed me in. Trying to keep my mind of the pain and blood lose I remember thinking oh man these Navy nurses were hot as hell, and I was naked. I forgot to mention that I could lift my head and even see if my penis was still their so I was wondering what they were thinking. I was pleading with the doctors to put me out with anesthesia due to the pain being so horrible. They told me we can’t till we know your blood type which they drew blood to test. I said “What the f*ck are you talking about that’s why we have dog tags I’m O Negative, I also pointed out the dog tag tattoo on my arm which held the same information. I was very angry.

Then I woke up two days later back in Washington D.C. at Walter Reed Medical Center. Apparently I went through Germany’s military hospital but was sedated the entire time. I opened my blurry eyes and saw my fiancé, and father they were already there from my home state Maine. I felt tears come down my face I was so happy I thought I would never see them again. Then I woke up again apparently I was going in for more surgery I thought I had only woken up once. But it was twice the surgeons removed, and save the shrapnel which I have to this day. I was swollen up to 250 pounds from my normal 155 pounds, and that’s when I heard the damage. I had lost 10cm of my rectum my prostate, part of my urethra, and part of my pubic bone due to the heat of the shrapnel melting them, on top of having my hip, and pelvis shattered, and severe nerve damage on my left side, and not being able to move my left leg. I spent about 16 days in ICU. After I was moved to Ward 57 where I spent the rest of my time of my 4 months of being bed ridden and, about 70 future surgeries in that time. I was taking it day by day.

On July 17 I woke up on a constant groove that I built a tolerance to from methadone, and dilaudid (Hydromorphone). I was really excited because I knew that today some of my military buddies were coming down from Maine to visit me. They showed up around 10 am. A few came in first and saw me for the first time since I deployed. Damien started looking around and saw an Xbox 360 in my room and asked about it, I told him some general gave it to me yesterday. Damien started laughing, and I was like what so funny you guys didn’t get me an Xbox did you? Right about that time Tony walked in a guy from my home unit, who deployed with a different unit who I saw time from time in Iraq. He had 3 plastic Wal-Mart bags in his hands. With a brand a new 360, and games that he bought with his own money. He came in and said “why is everyone laughing” They broke the news to him that I was given a 360 yesterday, his smile disappeared, but he tried to hide it well. I thanked him told him to return it and get his money back; I did keep the games though. Most of them did chewing tobacco, as well did I but I was a secret dipper in Iraq my fiancé didn’t know. She happened to not be there that day. I said “You guys have any dip I haven’t had a pinch since I got hurt.” They all pulled out a tin and offered it to me. I went with the grizzly winter green long cut. I put it inside my front lip within a minute my body began to buzz from the nicotine.

Around that time a Master SGT came in the room, and said we have a visitor today. It was common for people to come and, visit the wounded soldiers. He said Tito Ortiz will be here on this Ward would you like for him to visit you. There was hesitation “I was like hell yeah”. The guys and I began to buzz with the thought of Tito walking through that door. We were all into MMA myself probably the biggest fan out of all of them. Anticipation was building. The topic of Jenna Jemison came up we knew that Tito had recently started seeing her. The guys were saying out loud we should ask him about her, but no one had the guts to step up, and say they would do it. It was at the time I said “F*ck it I’ll do it what he going to do hit a guy in a hospital bed.” So the plan was set. We waited for Tito to walk through the door time was going by slowly.

Finally the door opened, and the Master SGT said Tito Ortiz would like to come see you. I said “Bring him in”. The large wood door slowly opened, and I saw this large, tan bald figure with giant muscular arms wearing his red season three of The Ultimate Fighter Shirt. He walked in with Justin McCully another UFC fighter. I was studying him while he was studying me trying to size up the situation. I’m sure he was trying to take it all in while seeing my ravaged body and the other guys in uniform with me. Sadness was all over Tito’s face. Tito started the conversation saying “how are you feeling, and doing” I told him “I was living and taking It One day at a time” He got right next to my bed, and shook my hand telling me thank you, and how much he supports, and appreciates the troops. We engaged in more conversation I asked him personal things he was very open he inquired about my injuries I told him my story, and saw the emotion on his face starting to build, his eyes began to water I showed him the shrapnel. With tears in his eyes he hugged me, and told me that I was a real hero, and what he does is nothing compared to what we do. Mean while my buddies all had a smirk on their face waiting, and wondering if they I was going to bring up Jenna, we didn’t know how Tito would react to the question since they were a fairly fresh couple, and had a lot of negativity from the media. I knew the moment was rapidly approaching as when I was going to spring the question on him. Looking back on it I don’t know what everyone was nervous about, I guess the mystique of pissing off a cage fighter.

Once I felt the conversation was comfortable between the two of us. “I said out of nowhere “So Tito where is Jenna she couldn’t make it” Tito lit up like a Christmas tree, and a huge smile immediately, and said “No man she couldn’t make it she has other obligations but I miss her a lot, I can’t stand being away from her. You know you are the first one to ask me about here since I have been here.” My army buddies began to laugh with Tito not knowing the inside joke. The thing I remember most about Tito was his warm smile, and personality this guy was really easy to talk to, it most certainly felt like he cared about me almost like a family member. Tito, and Justin both thanked my buddies for the service, and we took some pictures once I saw the pictures I realized how much weight I had lost when we held our fist up for the pose I was about a 100 pounds. Eventually the great moment had to come to end but I got to spend about 45 minutes with someone that I admired, not to mention I was dipping for the first time in a month, and a half.

Despite my condition this was one of the best days of my life I got to know the side of Tito that the public, and fans never get to see, non showman the actual man Christopher Jacob Ortiz. I will forever be fan and a friend of Tito Ortiz. That’s the story of how I met the Ultimate fighter, and a new friend Tito Ortiz.