Chad Marks

Flying high -- Chad Marks, who lost part of his right leg from a roadside bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan with his Marine Corps unit, will earn degrees in aviation management and aviation flight at Southern Illinois University Carbondale commencement ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 14.  (Photo by Russell Bailey)

December 12, 2013

Student looks to the skies in spite of disability

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Chad Marks has not allowed the serious injury he sustained while on patrol in Afghanistan to disrupt his dreams.

He lost his right leg just below the knee when he stepped on a roadside bomb in June 2008 while on patrol with his Marines Corps unit, and he subsequently endured months of rehabilitation. But he has remained undeterred, and on Saturday, Dec. 14, he will earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation management and an associate degree in aviation flight from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Commencement ceremonies for nearly 1,800 fall 2013 semester graduates begin at 2 p.m. at the SIU Arena.

For Marks, who relies upon an artificial limb for the lower part of his leg, there was no question that he would complete his degree and become a pilot.

“It’s how I was raised; if I wanted something I would always go for it,” he said.  “If I had something set in my mind I was able to always get it. I think a lot of people give up a little too easy. If you work for it, it will come to you.”

Marks, 26, is from Winnett, Mont., and is the son of Tammie Starkjohann and Hans Marks. 

He is working to complete a ground course and expects to complete his CFI (certified flight instructor) requirement in the spring, but has the credits to graduate.  His wants to become a certified flight instructor with an ultimate goal of working for a regional or charter airline.

In addition to the usual challenges of learning to fly an airplane, because he relies on an artificial limb, Marks also needed Federal Aviation Administration medical certification showing he could successfully manipulate a plane’s controls, including the rudders and brakes.

Michael A. LeFevre, an assistant instructor in the Department of Aviation Management and Flight, was Marks’ first instructor, beginning with the initial flight. Initially, there were things that slowed Marks down, but he always found a way to succeed.  To meet Marks, one would never know of any adversities, LeFevre said.

“I think the biggest thing others should take from him is his work ethic,” LeFevre said. “He was always aware of the amount of work it would take to get him where he wanted to be and he never failed to go above and beyond what was required.  As an instructor it is a much more enjoyable experience working with someone who shows that he really cares about what he is doing.  I miss working with him.  It was just fun.”

Marks refuses to focus on the disability.

“I think one of the hardest parts is once you become injured like I did with a traumatic injury if you dwell on it, it just kind of eats you up,” he said.  “I found it is a lot easier to push it back in. Every day I’m reminded; I wake up in the morning and have to put on my leg. I don’t put my pants on the same as everybody else, one foot at a time. But after that I do get it on and I usually just forget about it.”

John K. Voges, an associate professor in the department, taught Marks in a class and helped him prepare for the FAA-required medical certification allowing Marks to fly solo. Voges is excited and proud of Marks’ achievement.

“It’s his character that strikes me. He is absolutely the nicest young man,” Voges said.  “He is quiet and determined. It is a testament to him to engage in an industry that really for the most part you have to have pretty good physical specifications to get the certifications to move forward.”

Marks said he didn’t have any apprehension about the test.

“I wanted it and I knew it was possible,” Marks said.  “I had heard stories of people (with disabilities) flying helicopters and things like that.  Once I knew I was able to safely control the aircraft there was no doubt in my mind I would eventually get it. It took a lot of work to get it but eventually it worked out.”

Marks initially took some college courses while in rehabilitation at the U.S. Naval Medical Center San Diego.  He was able to rely on the GI Bill to cover the college cost. His wife’s parents live in Carlinville, so Marks moved to Edwardsville and began looking at universities.  He began at SIU in June 2010 in aviation management and began flight training in August 2011. His wife, Kaci, earned her degree in early childhood education from SIU Carbondale last December.

The pursuit of an aviation career brings about numerous opportunities, said Marks, who plans to return to Montana after completing his courses.  Prior to joining the military Marks worked as a wildland firefighter and oil refinery mechanic.

Marks said he is thankful for the training and education he received from his instructors.

“I love the program,” he said.  “You have such a wide variety of instructors and different types of aircraft. The education alone you receive here puts you way beyond anybody who gets their pilot license at any local fixed-based operator.

“There is a reason it takes time to get through this program because they want to make sure you cover everything and you are the best pilot you can be when you leave here,” he said.