TAMPA — An Air Force master sergeant who lost an eye when his helicopter was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq will represent the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Care Coalition as grand marshal at the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest Parade of Pirates on Jan. 25.
Master Sgt. Christian “Mack” MacKenzie, who enlisted in the Air Force in 1991, was critically wounded while conducting missions in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. A rocket-propelled grenade struck the cockpit of his helicopter, and he suffered facial trauma and a brain injury and lost one eye. He spent 16 months in and out of the hospital while enduring numerous surgeries and painful rehab before returning to full active duty and being re-instated as an enlisted aviator.
Care Coalition, an agency within the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base that supports wounded, ill or injured Special Operations Forces and their families, was chosen in November as the grand marshal for the parade.
Married with two daughters, MacKenzie has been awarded a number of military decorations over the years, including the Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, five Air Medals, Air Force Combat Action Medal and two National Defense Service Medals.
“When we announced Care Coalition would be grand marshal for the parade, we all agreed these folks were true heroes,” said Seminole Hard Rock’s President John Fontana. “Clearly, Master Sgt. MacKenzie exemplifies best what Care Coalition stands for. We’re ecstatic he will be representing this terrific organization.”
The Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest Parade of Pirates, which kicks off at 2 p.m., will include colorful costumes and festive music. It will also have more than 90 elaborate floats, 14 marching bands, over 50 distinct Krewes and the infamous Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla pirates.