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Marine sniper amputee shows what grit is all about

Amputee returned to combat
Marine sniper amputee shows what grit is all about 01:59

Every year since 2010, the Department of Defense's Warrior Games bring together wounded service members in a supportive and competitive environment to enhance their recovery and rehabilitation. This year, 300 athletes from all branches of the armed forces came to the Air Force Academy for the event. CBSN brings you five stories of these "American Warriors."

There are a few things you should know about Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Pacheco. He's always wanted to join the Marines. He's always wanted to be the best at what he does. He doesn't take no for an answer.

So it should come as no surprise that he enlisted right out of high school, became a prestigious Marine Corps Scout Sniper, and in 2010 he volunteered serve in Afghanistan just days after getting back from a previous deployment.

And when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his right leg, the last thing he told his fellow Marines before being airlifted out of combat was that he'd be back.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Pacheco lost his leg to an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2010. Jason Pacheco

"When it happened, I was coherent and awake the entire time," says Pacheco. "It was something special to see my brothers risk their lives to come back and help me."

Pacheco almost always refers to his fellow Marines as his brothers.

"I know a lot of people say blood is thicker than water," Pacheco explains, "[but] the guys that are in combat together and that fight side by side together and we bleed together; there's no greater bond than that."

He says it was getting back to his brothers that drove him to exceed expectations during his recovery. It took him three months to walk and six months to run. And 15 months after losing his leg, Pacheco became the first Marine amputee to return to a combat zone in an infantry military occupational specialty.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Pacheco was the first amputee to return to a combat zone in an infantry military occupational specialty. Jason Pacheco

"I decided I wanted to go back to Afghanistan and I wanted to be with my brothers no matter what it took," Pacheco says.

When CBS News met Pacheco at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games, he was participating in nearly every sport: shooting, track, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. His favorite sport is shooting -- you might expect that from a Scout Sniper. But it was during wheelchair basketball that his personality came out. The rules allow two pushes of the wheels per one dribble. But Pacheco dribbled the entire way up the court. He didn't have to, he just did.

"Don't let your disability define who you are," he says.

Pacheco has one more surgery left. Then he'll decide whether to return to service or retire. It's been hard for him to be away from his wife and two young children for so long. But he also still feels a responsibility to his Marine brothers.

"I just want to live my life to the best I can possibly do it. Not even just for [my brothers]," Pacheco says, "but to show my kids that they can do anything. As long as they believe it, they can actually achieve it."

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