An American hero put his life on the line for the country he loves — and his fellow Americans had his back.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Zach Stinson of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had a near-death incident while he was deployed during the war in Afghanistan.
Stinson, who enlisted in the Marine Corps at 18 years old, was transferred to North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune before being deployed with Marine command Fox 2-9 in July 2010 as a squad leader.
On Nov. 9, 2010, Stinson led a battle damage assessment in a small village.
The soldier took one wrong step after crossing over a wall — and landed on an improvised explosive device (IED) that blasted him off his feet, he told Fox News Digital in an interview.
The Stinsons of Pennsylvania were able to provide for and grow their family through the support of the Semper Fi & America’s Fund. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
“I stepped with my left foot and then just, ‘Boom!’” he said. “I’m in the air.”
“It felt like it took three minutes — my ears are ringing, there’s just dust everywhere and the entire time I’m just thinking, ‘I’m an idiot.'”
At that moment, Stinson knew exactly what had happened to him, but he was physically unable to move once he hit the ground face-first, he said.
He landed “bent in half” with his face in the dirt, but the brim of his helmet dug into the earth and gave him some space to breathe — ultimately keeping him alive, he said.
Semper Fi & America’s Fund case manager Dawn Van Skike is present at Marine veteran Zach Stinson’s bedside after he was injured on deployment in Afghanistan in November 2010. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
“I probably would’ve suffocated otherwise,” he said.
While he was lying there, unable to move, Stinson said a prayer and “asked the Lord for forgiveness” as he expected to perish.
But once his fellow Marines realized that Stinson was still alive, they moved quickly to provide aid.
“I told one of my team leaders … ‘Just tell my wife I’m sorry I couldn’t make it home,’” he said. “Because [I thought] this was it.”
Stinson noted that the first phone call he received while deployed was the news that his wife was pregnant with their first child — so the soldier did not expect he would meet his child in the tense minutes after the IED explosion.
His command worked to keep Stinson alive as they were simultaneously “being shot at” and returned fire, he said.
Zach Stinson holds up the remaining fingers of his left hand during an on-camera interview with Fox News Digital. (Angelica Stabile/Fox News Digital)
“Everything started ‘whiting out,'” he also said. “I started fading.”
Stinson compared it to the black-and-white stop-motion visuals in the ‘80s music video “Take On Me” by A-ha.
“It was really light,” he said. “I could barely make out [the] outlines of people’s faces … and just like that, everything just came back into color. And we kind of just waited.”
Stinson was eventually airlifted from the scene. He said he “knew it was bad” when no one would give him direct answers about his condition.
“I was like, ‘OK, this is going to be the end,’” he said.
But Stinson pushed himself to stay conscious — and after doctors placed him in an induced coma, he woke up five days later in Bethesda, Maryland.
Semper Fi & America’s Fund case manager Dawn Van Skike (far left) is pictured with Marine veteran Zach Stinson and his wife and daughter. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
“If God wanted me to come home, then that would’ve been what happened,” he said.
The incident resulted in a double leg amputation above the knee, the loss of several fingers and multiple internal injuries, he said.
“I wouldn’t say I do a whole lot of things right, but I definitely got my wife right.”
Stinson had about two years of rehabilitation at various hospitals around the Washington, D.C., area, he noted.
Stinson’s daughter was born the same day that he was made an outpatient, Stinson noted.
He said this created a “big adjustment” in this new life, as both he and the baby were now coming home.
Today, Stinson has two daughters – ages 12 and 8. Their second daughter was conceived through IVF.
The Stinson family is pictured here. “I’m really enjoying being a dad,” Zach Stinson told Fox News Digital. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
The rest of their embryos were shared with another family, he said.
“So, there are full-blown Stinsons all over the country,” he said, laughing. “Which is kind of cool … I’m really enjoying being a dad.”
There was a time when he was “selfish” and focused mostly on his recovery, he said. But now he’s “having fun” being a father and a husband of 14 years.
“Now I’d say we’re thriving.”
“I wouldn’t say I do a whole lot of things right, but I definitely got my wife right,” he said.
“She stuck with me whenever I was not at my best, so now I’d say we’re thriving.”
The Stinsons are flourishing with the help of the Semper Fi & America’s Fund. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
After exiting his deployment, Stinson was immediately backed by the Semper Fi & America’s Fund — a national nonprofit that provides support for combat-wounded veterans and their families. It is headquartered in California but its reach is countrywide.
Stinson was paired with case manager Dawn Van Skike, who helped set the Stinson family up with financial aid and moral support.
“They were taking care of my family when I couldn’t,” Stinson said. “And that’s the greatest thing. They were providing for my [pregnant] wife.”
Stinson said the support he needed most for his family was made possible through the efforts of the fund.
“I can’t say enough good things about what they’ve done for me through the years,” he said. “And it doesn’t stop.”
Dawn Van Skike (left), Semper Fi & America’s Fund Veteran Lead Jasper Heilig (top right) and Zach Stinson get together for a photo. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
Van Skike, Semper Fi & America’s Fund senior director for case management on the East Coast, told Fox News Digital that she “feels so fortunate” to be able to interact with families in need.
She met the Stinson family within the first week of Stinson’s injury, jumping in to “fill in the gaps” where the family needed support the most, she said.
“There’s no how-to book on getting blown up.”
After nearly 13 years, Temecula, California-based Van Skike expressed that she and Stinson are “definitely part of each other’s families.”
“That’s what I love about the fund and our relationship,” she continued. “We’ve been through a lot together … We have that family bond.”
Stinson was one of the first service members Van Skike interacted with as a case manager with the fund.
Semper Fi & America’s Fund provided $4.8 million in basic needs assistance to combat-wounded veterans in 2022. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
“It was straight into the fire, I guess,” Stinson joked.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of the service members that were in Zach’s unit,” Van Skike said. “It’s so great that they are part of my family, too.”
The fund recently set up a reunion in Colorado in April for Stinson and his Marine unit, marking 13 years since their Afghanistan deployment.
“There’s no how-to book on getting blown up,” Stinson said. “It’s the equivalent of any major tragedy striking a family. I mean, it’s life-changing.”
“And to have [the fund] come in and basically explain, ‘You’re going to be all right, we’ve done this before’ — they go above and beyond.”
Stinson has taken on a new role as a para-triathlete and para-cyclist. In the last year, he’s competed on four different continents.
Marine veteran Zach Stinson is now a para-triathlete and para-cyclist. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
Stinson was able to teach himself how to swim and run through the support of the fund; it set him up with a wheelchair for the running portion of the triathlon.
“We learned how to do it without legs, and we’ve done pretty well with it since,” he said.
“You’re never alone. There’s always somebody there to lean on … no matter what you’ve been through.”
Stinson just won his division at the 2023 Boston Marathon as a hand cyclist.
He plans on racing in his first international competition in Alabama this month, he said.
Van Skike and Stinson keep in close contact on a regular basis; Van Skike said she’s a “huge Zach fan” and often attends his races.
“To see him in action is amazing,” she said. “To watch them go through a triathlon with lots of moving pieces — and it was not only his wife but his two little girls that were just making it work — it was just magic.”
Marine veteran Zach Stinson, shown here, thanks the Semper Fi & America’s Fund for supporting his athletic endeavors. (Semper Fi & America’s Fund)
“I adore his family,” she also said. It’s such a unique relationship for my work … I feel privileged and honored to be considered a friend of the family.”
Stinson responded, noting that while he “loves Dawn,” he’s also waiting for her husband to retire so that they can go hunting more frequently.
The Semper Fi & America’s Fund has helped over 30,000 service members, recently hitting the major milestone of raising $300 million for service members and their families since 2004.
“We get new service members every day,” Van Skike said. “It’s not too late to come into the fund.”
Stinson added that the fund feels like a “big family.”
“You’re never alone,” he said. “There’s always somebody there to lean on … no matter what you’ve been through.”
For more information on the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, visit thefund.org.