As a corporal infantry rifleman in Charlie Company with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, based out of Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Toran “Chance” Gaal was injured in the Sangin District of the Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2011. Sangin is known as one of the country’s most dangerous regions. Along with losing both legs, one at the hip and another above the knee, the 2005 Yosemite High School graduate broke his pelvis, fractured his skull and severed his chest, with an open wound that ran from his breastbone to near his pelvis. Back in 2007, this 6-foot, 3-inch, 220 pounder, who was adopted as an infant from an orphanage in India, was chosen to serve as a member of the Presidential Guard, hand-picked out of basic training, and was the second Marine to stand behind the president during President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Marine Sergeant Toran Gaal’s first deployment was in 2007 to Iraq as a Team Leader with 3rd Battalion 6th Marines. Then in 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion 6th Marines as a Squad Leader. His third and last deployment was to Afghanistan, with 1st Battalion 5th Marines as a Squad Leader.
Toran has no recollection of the incident that occurred on June 26, 2011. Ironically, just the evening prior to the explosion, Sgt Gaal had announced to his unit that he was reenlisting. Sgt Gaal would wake up from a coma two months later under the impression that he was still in high school and had been in a car crash and had no memory of ever being a Marine. Following his medical evacuation from the blast site, he was transported to Bagram and then to Landstuhl, Germany, and was then brought stateside to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Bethesda) where he stayed for seven months. Eventually he was treated at the VA in Palo Alto for his brain injury and then on to Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego, and was later medically retired. In January 2012, Toran took his first steps on prosthetics, which gave him, as he says, “a whole new level of what satisfaction means.” He credits the strides he has made in his recovery with the many people he has met who impacted or motivated him in some way.
Prior to becoming a Marine, Toran was attending the University of Dayton on a full basketball scholarship. However, after a few years in college, he felt it was his calling to join the United States Marine Corps, thanks to his brother, who served well before him. Within a 72 hour span of time, Toran made the decision to join the Marines, even after being offered a contract to begin a professional basketball career and to play in Spain.
Toran has interned with several publicly traded companies and has also worked within the House of Representatives with Congressman Duncan D. Hunter in 2008. While at the White House, he completed his degree with a BA in Business Administration from Georgetown University. He would like to build on those professional experiences in the future. Toran has also started to surf and swim as part of his recovery. Recently, Toran completed the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon on a hand cycle. He has plans to also compete in four more marathons on a hand cycle in the fall, including the Marine Corps Marathon and the New York City Marathon. Toran would also like to continue with hand cycling and would like to compete in a triathlon at some point in the future.
With the 23rd psalm tattooed on his arm — ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”, Toran now has been helping to motivate his peers and others that are new to the amputee way of life. Toran also has spoken to groups about his experiences and his recovery, including schools, military and civic organizations. Toran says, “Joining the USMC was and has been the best decision I made. I have added my stamp to the Freedoms that I have enjoyed”.
This past summer, Toran hand-cycled across America. To see more about his journey, go to www.torangaal.com