CRESTVIEW — The Emerald Coast Young Marines on Saturday learned about being a U.S. Marine as they honored a service member injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

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CRESTVIEW — The Emerald Coast Young Marines on Saturday learned about being a U.S. Marine as they honored a service member injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Kirstie Ennis, of Milton, reportedly received six surgeries for injuries including a torn rotator cuff, shattered jaw and a brain injury. In addition, she experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

But on Saturday, she was the Young Marines’ honored guest an Elks Lodge luncheon.

She appreciated meeting group members who sent her letters of encouragement while she recuperated.

“To put faces to the names of the young Marines that have been writing me throughout my recovery is a great feeling,” Ennis said. “I hope I can empower them half as much as they have done for me.”

Elks Lodge 2624 provided lunch for Ennis, her family and the Young Marines, their parents and staff.

Attendees said Ennis was a role model.

“She really inspires me … how she can be in a helicopter crash and (still) be here to tell us about her experiences,” Pfc. Michaela Cantwell, 10, of Milton, said.

“Now I’m thinking about being a gunner,” Michaela said. Ennis served as gunner on helicopters that transport military personnel and supplies.

Many Young Marines said Ennis’ story wouldn’t deter them from facing dangerous situations.

Pfc. Carson Caldwell, 10, of Crestview found Ennis’ ordeal “emotional,” but said he still wants to be a Marine. “I think I can handle it; I’m strong enough.”

Carson's brother, William, also is a member of the ECYM. Their mother, Michelle Caldwell — a group volunteer — has personal experience dealing with wounded service members. Allen, her eldest son, received a serious head injury during hand-to-hand combat training at the United States Naval Academy, ending his military career with an honorable discharge.

Allen has since attended the University of Central Florida and, all things considered, his mother said he is doing well.

“It has left him with some personality changes … I don’t know if he will ever be fully recovered,” Michelle said.

Although being a military mom can be difficult, Michelle said her children have chosen this path.

"Some other countries, you don't have a choice, but in this one, you do," she said.

“We should all do what we can for our country and our community,” Michelle said. “Sometimes, we have to sacrifice ourselves for other people.”

As for Ennis, she plans to meet with a medical review board to learn whether she can continue her drill instructor career.

If she retires, Ennis would like to pay it forward with a medical degree.

"I want to work with service members who have PTSD," she said.

Want to join?

The Emerald Coast Young Marines meet on the first and third Saturday each month at the Elks Lodge in Crestview. Boys and girls ages 8-18 may join the group.

Deadline to register this year is Jan. 30.

See for more information.

Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.