Purple Heart Recipient Continues Service at ODNI
August 7, 2020
“Despite being shot in the back, war was the best experience I’ve ever had.”
Those are the words of a 30-year-old man who has spent more than 10 percent of his life in a military hospital recovering from an armor piercing sniper round.
His name is Justin Griffin, a former Sergeant in the United States Army who is a Purple Heart recipient and a current employee at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
On September 11, 2011, exactly 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, Griffin, a Combat Engineer with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, was leading his squad on a multiday operation.
That night at 5:30 p.m. in Kandahar, Afghanistan, his life was forever changed.
“We had been on mission for four days at that point,” said Griffin. “They (the Taliban) had started throwing hand grenades at us to try and get us to move from our position and move into a planned ambush they had. A bunch of my guys had been hit by grenades already, it was like a game of hot potato but with grenades.”
At this point, Griffin knew he had to do something. He received permission to lead his squad to conduct an assault on the Taliban forces that were present and a small-arms firefight initiated.
“As soon as I got up to start moving forward, I took a round straight to the back in between my shoulder blades,” Griffin said.
The shot pierced his armor plates and caused a shattered humorous, cut his subclavian artery in half, and tore apart the nerve bundle in the shoulder. His life had been forever changed.
Griffin, medically retired from the Army in 2014, is currently an Intelligence Educator for new employees at the National Counterterrorism (NCTC) at ODNI. Griffin, who thought his service to his nation would be halted after being shot, was afforded the opportunity to be a part of the Intelligence Community Wounded Warriors Program.
“When I was at Walter Reed recovering, the first thing I did was ask when I could get back to my guys in the field. The doctor told me ‘that wasn’t an option’” Griffin said. “When ODNI offered me a second opportunity to serve my country, I was so excited. It was an incredible opportunity that was given to me by ODNI.”
Griffin had wanted to be a Soldier his whole life and when his time in the Army was cut short, he felt like he still needed to serve his country in some way.
For Griffin, ODNI provided a new meaning of service to the American people.
“Looking back, 9/11 is what solidified my desire to join the Army,” he said. “Seeing U.S. citizen’s jump for their death instead of burning to death [in the twin towers] is what made me want to go fight.”
Often when some people find out that Griffin received a Purple Heart, they tell him that they are so sorry about what happened.
In response, he says that he is sorry that they have never experienced true love.
“True love is when you have people who are willing to give you their last drop of water in the desert, it’s when you have guys who are willing to jump on a hand grenade for you,” Griffin said. “You see the best of the American people in war.”
Although Griffin’s time in the Army was cut short, he will always have the scars to remember that he was a Soldier in the U.S. Army – and he made it home alive from Afghanistan – something over 2,200 of his brothers and sisters never did.
“The biggest thing I always tell people is it’s important to live every day for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Griffin said. “It’s important to celebrate for those who didn’t get the opportunity to take that next breath. As far as the Purple Heart itself, it speaks volumes to the warrior spirit of the American people I’ve served with.”