Army Major Jonathan Turnbull speaks to students

Saginaw Valley State Universitiy’s Millitary Student Affairs Office. Vanguard Photo Editor | Justin Kruskie

Military Student Affairs and the Saginaw Veterans Association hosted an event Thursday evening in the Malcolm Field Theatre.

Retired U.S. Army Major Jonathan Turnbull, a recipient of the Purple Heart, spoke about his military experiences during the event.

Turnbull is a native of Flint, Michigan. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2010. He was a platoon leader when he was deployed to Afghanistan to support in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012-2013.

After returning to America, Turnbull served as a Civil Affairs Officer in Special Operations, and was later deployed to the Kingdom of Jordan in 2015 and 2017. In 2016 he was deployed in Lebanon.

In 2018-2019, he served as special operations cross functional team leaderfor cross-functional team Manbij in Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Turnbull and his team were responsible for building a school for children who had never been to school before, especially for girls who still, in many parts of the Middle East, do not receive a formal education because of their gender.

He also helped in the construction of a hospital so that women would no longer have to give birth in their homes.

Turnbull and his team’s actions caught the attention of the extremist group ISIS , and they were targeted by a suicide bomber on Jan. 16, 2019, in Manbij, Syria.

Four of Turnbull’s fellow soldiers were killed, and Turnbull was immediately blinded among other life-threatening wounds. He was given a 0% chance of survival and was confirmed dead, he siad

After a woman performed CPR on him, he was miraculously resuscitated, he said. After 22 surgeries and over two years of fighting the high odds of death, Turnbull finally began his recovery.

He retired from the military in November of 2021 but works as a trainer and mentor for others. He wrote a book entitled “Zero Percent Chance”, in which he discusses the work of his career and the stories that inspire others.

Bethany Alford , the Director of Military Student Affairs at SVSU, helped host the event. She said that Turnbull’s story is tragic and heartbreaking, but that the audience left the event inspired by his resilience and strength.

“I encouraged people to attend this event to learn about Jon and to be inspired,” she said. “If they are servicemembers or veterans themselves, I encouraged them to attend so they can see that they are not alone in the struggles they face in transitioning from the military.”

Turnbull himself spoke as the keynote speaker during the hour-long event and met with audience members for a book signing afterward. His message of hope and perseverance rang true throughout his presentation, and at the end of his speech, he took several questions.

“As far as joining the service, I would have done everything the exact same,” he said. “I’m honored to be in the position I am today, even wounded … I’m honored to have been where I’ve been, to serve with whom I’ve served.”

Turnbull has also spoken with the children of his fallen servicemembers, one of whom is only 6 years old and possesses little memory of her dad.

Turnbull shared an experience he had with her father when she asked about him . Turnbull said that he chooses to focus on the positive.

“It kills me inside, the sacrifices this young lady has made, but I’m honored because I was able to tell her: ‘let me tell you about your daddy. Let me tell you about how he lived.’ Let’s not focus on the negative things.”

Turnbull’s message was one of resilience, and he said that he hopes people, especially those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, will see his story of survival and be inspired in ways that motivate them to keep pushing forward in life, to know that they too can get through any struggle that comes their way

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