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A Ford Thing (yes, it is not always only JDM)

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A U.S. Marine who nearly lost his life in Afghanistan got a once-in-a-lifetime gift from a Detroit automaker whose vehicle helped him escape death once more.

Tyler Vargas-Andrews, 26, of Virginia, retired from the Marine Corps after losing his right arm and his left leg during a suicide bomber attack in Kabul. He told the Detroit Free Press he purchased a 2023 Ford Raptor truck as a gift to himself for not dying.

And that vehicle may have saved his life.

But the story doesn't end there.

After a 2017 Nissan Murano crashed into him and totaled his truck on Thanksgiving Day, the military veteran credited the Raptor with saving his life in an Instagram post, tagging #Ford and #FordPerformance.

"Closest I've come to dying in a while," Vargas-Andrews wrote on Nov. 26, 2023.

People at Ford Motor Co. saw the social media post and forwarded the information to executive chair Bill Ford, great-grandson of the company founder. Then the automaker decided to take action.

"Ford is replacing Tyler's original Raptor with Bill taking a personal hand in making sure it happened," Mike Levine, Ford North America product communications director, told the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday. "I don't think I've met any person tougher than Tyler. He sacrificed so much to serve and this is the least we can do to thank him. He is a resilient, inspirational and amazing person."

Vargas-Andrews told the Free Press that he drove his Chevy Traverse accessible vehicle, which was donated by Help Our Military Heroes, just under nine hours to Dearborn on Monday from Virginia. Ford covered his hotel room cost.

On Tuesday, Vargas-Andrews went to the Dearborn Truck Plant, where the F-150 pickup is built. He met with blue- and white-collar veterans employed at the plant and spent time with Bill Ford on the factory floor. That part was a surprise, Levine said. Ford CEO Jim Farley said hello, too.

Driving the Raptor cross-country

"I'm a Ford guy. My first vehicle was my mom's 2006 Ford Escape, and I drove that thing to, like, 350,000 (miles), and then enlisted in the Marine Corps," Vargas-Andrews told the Free Press. "As soon as I got out of boot camp, I bought a 2018 Ford Focus hatchback."

The northern California native left the military last year and bought a 2023 Raptor, which he drove cross-country and off-roading in California, Utah and Colorado, plus Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in Wyoming. "I'd sleep off the back of my truck in a hammock and keep driving. I had the truck about five months. It was a short life but a good life."

The high-performance Raptor pickup starts at $77,980, according to Ford. Vargas-Andrews said he paid just over six figures when including warranty and all the extras.

For the replacement, Ford told Vargas-Andrews he could have any version of the Raptor he wanted, "a Raptor of his dreams," so he went with the 2024 Raptor R, which is a Ford Raptor with a $31,575 option package that features a 5.2-liter supercharged V8 engine with 720-hp and dual valve Fox shocks. Its cost, including delivery and taxes, is $113,770, according to Ford.

'To me, it's everything'

"It just doesn't feel real almost," Vargas-Andrews told the Free Press. "I like to consider myself a good American trying to be a great American. This truly left me speechless. It's a small thing to them, but to me it's everything. I've got buddies that died within an arm's reach of me. I'm missing a plethora of my organs. And I don't take any day for granted. You get knocked down and it's how you choose to pick yourself up."

Any third-party modifications such a wheelchair lift or modified vehicle controls will be added by Vargas-Andrews, as he did on his original Raptor, Ford said.

Vargas-Andrews didn't drive home in his new truck because it has gone into the queue to be delivered to his local dealer in Virginia as part of the new 2024 F-150 shipments, Ford said.

But Vargas-Andrews did get a personal introduction to the Raptor R from Carl Widmann, chief engineer of Ford Performance, on all the features. He said the experience with Ford, which Vargas-Andrews described as a quintessential American company, meant even more in the context of its history supporting our nation during times of war.

Ford has a history of supporting military veterans and offering military discounts, as do automakers including General Motors, Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Fiat.

Looking back and moving forward

Vargas-Andrews, who was injured in 2021 while evacuating Afghan people at the Kabul airport, testified to Congress in March about the incident that killed 13 members of the U.S. military and more than 100 Afghan people.

CNN quoted him saying, "A flash and a massive wave of pressure. I’m thrown 4 feet onto the ground but instantly knew what had happened. I opened my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious lying around me. A crowd of hundreds immediately vanished in front of me. And my body was catastrophically wounded with 100 to 150 ball bearings now in it."

Since having 44 surgeries during recovery from August 2021 through June 2022 at Walter Reed Hospital, Vargas-Andrews said, he is now a certified personal trainer, open water scuba certified and a business owner.

"I lived my life very hard and very fast before getting wounded, 100 miles per hour," Vargas-Andrews told Axios in November. "Now I'm probably going about 55, but I'm jumping on every chance."

He told the Free Press, "I still do all the things I did and loved and more."

On Instagram, he is known as "whistlingdeath" and ends his posts with #NeverAVictim.

The day the Raptor was totaled

After the Thanksgiving Day crash, Vargas-Andrews shared with his 63,500 or so Instagram followers what happened: "We were headed to our friend's home completely stopped in traffic in the far left lane on the Interstate. I watched a black SUV in my rear view mirror about a quarter mile back not slowing down and we were unable to move due to us being stopped in traffic. A few seconds later the black SUV crashed into us/my truck at 75 MPH and sent us flying across 3-4 lanes and spun us 1-2 times. EMT's/Police were there in a couple minutes and took us to the hospital. The State Troopers let us know the woman driving was at fault."

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller confirmed to the Free Press that the two-vehicle crash on Interstate 95 northbound at the 135-mile marker in Stafford County, Virginia, occurred on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, when the Murano crashed into a Ford Raptor stopped for traffic. Vargas-Andrews and his passenger suffered minor injuries. The driver of the Murano, Shantel M. Skari, 24, of Hartford, South Dakota, suffered minor injuries and was cited for reckless driving.

Vargas-Andrews told the Free Press he is just finishing all the accident paperwork now, and pursuing a lawsuit.

These days, Vargas-Andrews makes custom knives and other products called Flatline HardGoods with partners Jake Simmons and Bryan Edwards. Simmons joined Vargas-Andrews on the trip to Dearborn this week.

Ford: 'Living life the way they want'

After meeting Vargas-Andrews and Simmons, Bill Ford shared his thoughts with company employees in recorded video remarks. Ford said, according to audio made available to the Free Press, "For us to be able to support our veterans is hugely important to me. These two guys that are here today, they’re the most inspiring guys that you’ll ever want to meet. They’re living life just the way they want to live it. … It’s an honor to be able to support people like that. I’m so grateful to these two guys and, frankly, to all the veterans for everything they’ve done for our country."


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