Lt. Col. Justin Constantine Dedicated His Life to Helping Fellow Veterans

Photo Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

On May 5, 2022, Lt. Col. Justin Constantine passed away after a brave and courageous battle with cancer. As Americans continue to mourn the loss of the decorated war hero and veterans advocate, his legacy continues to thrive in the lives he touched. Here’s a look back at his service with the US Marine Corps and the event that led him to fight for his fellow retired servicemen.

Justin Constantine was injured in Iraq

While in law school in 1997, Justin Constantine joined the US Marine Corps. He served as a JAG officer until 2004, and became a reservist two years later. In 2006, he was deployed to Iraq as a Civil Affairs Team Leader and attached to an infantry battalion.

While on a combat patrol in Al-Anbar Province on October 18, 2006, Constantine was shot in the left ear by a sniper. As he told Reuters, “Somehow, from hundreds of yards away, the sniper had managed to shoot me in the thin sliver of exposed skin between my helmet and neck guard.” After entering through the left ear, the bullet exited through his mouth.

Lt. Col. Constantine talks with US Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno.
US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno (R) and Marine Corps Maj. Justin Constantine (L) at the National Memorial Day concert, 2012. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade / US Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Initial reports claimed Constantine was killed in action, but fellow serviceman Navy Corpsman George Grant saved his life by performing an emergency cricothyroidotomy. While Grant conducted the procedure, a young Marine risked his own life and drove to the closest aid station.

Constantine underwent a 19-hour surgery, followed by an additional two dozen reconstructive procedures. While he survived the gunshot, he did lose most of his teeth, the tip of his tongue and the sight in his left eye.

He retired from the Marine Corps in 2013, having reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. For his service, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Combat Action Ribbon.

A lifetime of service

Not only did Justin Constantine’s injury change him physically, it also ignited a passion for helping other military veterans. He served on the US Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as a counsel and was the assistant general counsel for the FBI‘s national security branch. He also continued with his education, graduating from the Marine Corps University – Command and Staff College and Georgetown University.

Justin Constantine speaking at a press conference
Justin Constantine conducts a news conference in the Capitol to urge the passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act, 2013. (Photo Credit: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images)

After a hugely successful government career, Constantine co-founded the nonprofit Veteran Success Resource Group, which focuses on veterans employment initiatives. He also founded a motivational speaking practice and wrote several books, including My Battlefield, Your Office, “which applies military leadership skills to the private sector.” He spoke out on a number of issues, such as mental health, the stresses of deployment on family members and veterans care.

Over the course of his life, the retired Marine was honored by multiple US presidents. He was named a Champion of Change for Veterans by President Barack Obama, and was even painted by former President George W. Bush for his book, Portraits of Courage.

Justin Constantine left behind a lasting legacy

For his efforts, Justin Constantine was awarded a number of accolades. In 2017, he was presented with the Henry Viscardi Achievement Award “for shaping attitudes, raising awareness and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.” He also received the Veterans Advantage HeroVet award for his contributions to the veterans community.

In 2020, Constantine announced he was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer, which had spread to his bones. Even as death loomed over him once more, he remained positive and tackled his cancer battle with the same drive as any other challenge he’d faced. Sadly, the disease took his life on May 5, 2022.

Justin Constantine speaking at an event
Veteran Award recipient Justin Constantine speaks onstage at The Lincoln Awards, 2015. (Photo Credit: Larry French / Getty Images).

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This incredible war hero and humanitarian will never be replaced. His undying love and service to his country are an inspiration for countless other servicemen, veterans and change-makers.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

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