The Care Coalition of U.S. Special Operations Command that tends to the needs of wounded, ill and injured servicemembers and their families was recently highlighted during an annual parade that celebrates the pirate way of life here.
Air Force Master Sgt. Christian “Mack” MacKenzie was chosen to represent USSOCOM’s Care Coalition and serve as the Grand Marshal of the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest Parade of Pirates Jan. 25. MacKenzie has most recently served as a hospital liaison officer with the Care Coalition and superintendent of their community outreach department, but is currently in their Transition Internship Program as he is being evaluated by a medical board. He was injured in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the MH-53 helicopter he helped crew, causing facial trauma, shrapnel wounds to his upper body, the loss of his left eye and hearing damage.
While MacKenzie’s prior missions were flying Special Operations missions, his goal during the parade was to throw out as many strands of plastic, colored beads to the spectators lining the 3-mile route.
“This is a lot of work … my arm’s getting tired,” MacKenzie said during the parade.
His arm wasn’t just worn out from tossing all the beads – he had waves of costumed “pirates” coming up to the convertible he was riding in, shaking his hand and thanking him for his service. “You’re welcome” and “thank you” were always MacKenzie’s response.
“The people of Tampa truly appreciate what we’re out there doing,” MacKenzie said. “It’s something we can be proud of … it reaffirms that we are out there doing the right thing.”
During the week leading up to the parade, MacKenzie visited numerous media outlets who were interested in the Grand Marshal’s story. He was impressed with how the word spread and people at the parade recognized him.
“One thing that really surprised me was how many people saw the stories and knew who I was and were calling out to me by my name,” he said. “I’d hear, ‘hey, Mack’ or ‘master sergeant’ – they knew who I was and what I stand for. I also saw veterans in the crowd stand up and salute.”
When the sponsor of the parade reached out to the Care Coalition to notify them they were selected as Grand Marshal, Lt. Cmdr. Brian Hower, chief of Community Outreach with the Care Coalition, said he knew MacKenzie would be a great fit.
“He is a good figurehead, loves to talk, and has a great story,” Hower said. “He loves to spread the message, so he was the perfect selection for this. He’s a selfless guy … always about the mission. Mission first.”
When MacKenzie first heard he was selected to be the Grand Marshal, he said he was honored to be chosen. But out of all the organizations possible to fill the role, he was moved with the selection of the Care Coalition.
“There were so many choices, and the fact they chose the military, chose us, is truly indicative of the support the local community provides to the military,” MacKenzie said.