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Jay Heine holds a Purple Heart he earned for wounds he received in action on July 16, 2007, in Iraq. Despite his aches and pains that persist, and the occasional shrapnel that he still pulls from his legs, he would do it all over again. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Jay Heine adheres to ‘adapt and overcome’ motto in face of three severe concussions he suffered while serving in Iraq
Growing up in the wilderness of Mt. Emily sounds fun and enjoyable, but for Jay Heine it honed practical skills for his future in the Marines.
Heine, a 2003 La Grande High School graduate, was deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines infantry in 2007. Over a seven-month stay in the Al-Anbar province, Heine suffered three Grade 3 concussions in mortar attacks and roadside bombings. One of his Purple Hearts hangs next to his desk at Legacy Dodge as a reminder that life is precious.
Heine’s grandfather started teaching him as a 3 year old to shoot a BB gun. At 9 years old, he could navigate Mt. Emily, shoot targets and survive on his own if necessary.
“From a young age, I had marksmanship abilities,” he said.
By the time he was in high school, Heine realized he had a set of skills that few people have and could put them to good use. Noting that men and women had served before him to protect his freedoms, he felt a sense of obligation to return the favor.
“I had it planned all through high school,” Heine said. The plan was to go to boot camp between his junior and senior years to be ready for active duty training immediately after graduation. Heine planned to pursue a military career.
However, as plans often do, circumstances changed. A dirt bike injury prohibited Heine from enlisting as soon as he would have liked, but he didn’t give up his dream just yet.
“I wouldn’t have felt right walking away from it,” he said. “Somebody had to do it.”
After his 2005 enlistment, Heine went through all the necessary marksman training exercises to ultimately be deployed in 2007. The maximum score for the Marines marksman test at that time was 250. Heine got a 248.
Three months into his deployment, his infantry lost three snipers to injuries. He was upgraded to sniper, a term Heine said does not mean what people think it means.
“They think of sniper, they think murderer or killer. They think of the movie ‘Shooter,’” he said. “They just hear the bad things.”
As a sniper, Heine worked on a small team that worked together so well that talking was unnecessary. Extensive training in counter intel, reconnaissance and body language were important since the team was watching people who weren’t in uniform. They were trained to catch tiny indicators — like a change in the glimmer of a piece of glass or the movement of a blade of grass.
“You are almost, say, like a brain surgeon, but in a military role,” Heine said. “It’s a lot of discipline.”
Heine recalled sitting for hours at a time without moving. The motto “adapt and overcome” took on a new, personal meaning.
In seven months, Heine suffered three severe concussions. The third one deemed him “physically undeployable.” His plans changed once again.
Heine never pictured himself as a sales professional at Legacy Dodge in La Grande, but it’s better than the alternative, he said.
“I probably would have been on the Union County jail register,” he said.
His service earned him — and many of his comrades — Purple Hearts. Heine said they call them “enemy marksmanship awards.”
“We were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
Despite his aches and pains that persist, and the occasional shrapnel that he still pulls from his legs, he would do it all over again.
“I absolutely loved the structure, the way of life, the camaraderie, the drive of getting up in the morning to successfully carry out your mission,” Heine said. “The only thing I would change would be to go sooner — when I planned on it.”