Army Program Enables Wounded Warrior to Serve Again
By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2007 Jorge DeLeon may have lost a leg in the war, but he never lost a desire to serve his country. Two years after his military aspirations were crushed by an anti-tank mine, DeLeon is back in Army service – this time as a Department of Defense civilian.
Jorge DeLeon operates a radio at the Fort Sam Houston Police Department. DeLeon is the second Department of Defense employee hired at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, under the Army Wounded Warrior Program, and the first amputee. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The former sergeant is the second civil service employee hired at Fort Sam Houston through the Army Wounded Warrior Program, and the first one who is an amputee.
The program, dubbed AW2, is designed for soldiers severely wounded in the war on terror. AW2 provides information and assistance to aid soldiers and their families through the recovery process and beyond, from medical evacuation to reintegration into the work force.
“We continue to work closely with managers to locate employment opportunities at Fort Sam Houston that match the skills of the many wounded warriors in our area,” said Sharon Ferguson, director of the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center at Fort Sam Houston. “Commanders and managers are encouraged to use all available tools to provide employment opportunities for these courageous Soldiers.”
DeLeon, the newest edition to the Fort Sam Houston Police Department, is now at work at Fort Sam Houston as a radio operator.
“I’m very happy to be working here,” DeLeon said. “I’m not doing exactly what I want, but it’s close.”
DeLeon would have preferred to remain a soldier. The 33-year-old joined in 2001 after eight years on the police force in Puerto Rico. He deployed four times in five years; however, he wasn’t injured until the last.
The former infantryman deployed to Afghanistan in April 2004, with the 25th Infantry Division, out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Just a few weeks in Afghanistan, DeLeon and his unit were on their way back to camp after a patrol through the region. DeLeon was driving a Humvee, the lead vehicle of the convoy.
As they neared the camp, the sergeant noticed a strange sight, a funeral in progress in the middle of the desert, not far from the entrance to the base.
“Usually, no one is out there, but that day there were more than 50 people at a funeral," DeLeon said. "I immediately thought something was wrong.”
DeLeon told the lieutenant in the Humvee his suspicions, and at that moment, the Humvee ran over an anti-tank mine.
“It was like slow motion,” he said. “The Humvee lifted about 12 feet in the air before it fell.”
The dashboard crushed DeLeon to his seat. His fellow soldiers raced to pull him out. As he lay on the ground, he felt no pain – until he looked down. The bone on his left leg protruded from his skin and his right one was gone.
“Then the pain hit me. I was conscious the whole time. On the way to the hospital, all I could think about was my wife and kids,” said the father of three children ages 5, 3 and 1. “I didn’t want to die.”
Having taken the full brunt of the mine, DeLeon was the only one injured in the explosion.
He underwent a long, painful recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Wasington, D.C. His desire to stay in the Army and the support of his family kept him on the path to recovery. He finished his treatment and was soon on his way back to Schofield Barracks to join his unit -- under one condition. He had to pass a physical training test.
Fitted with the latest in prosthesis, a computer-controlled leg, DeLeon could walk, bike, drive, do just about anything – but run. Despite extensive running training at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, he was unable to pass the test and was medically retired in March.
“I really loved the Army, loved the pride of the infantry,” DeLeon said. “I’m able to do anything in my mind and heart, but my disability prevents me from doing it all.”
Disappointed that his military dream was over, DeLeon turned to a former passion – law enforcement. An eight-year veteran of the force prior to the military, DeLeon tapped into his experience and applied for a job with the police department at Fort Sam Houston.
Between his military and police experience, disability aside, DeLeon was a perfect fit. He started working as a radio operator last month.
“He’s doing a fine job,” said Master Sgt. Troy Brumley, DeLeon’s supervisor. “His background in law enforcement is a real asset. If we get a few more like him, we won’t turn them down.”
That may just happen, because Ferguson said she will continue to encourage wounded warriors to apply for the program.
“We are pleased with our success thus far, but recognize that there are many more positions that can be filled with wounded warriors,” she said. “Our experience is that the brave warriors with whom we have worked truly exemplify the AW2 vision: ‘Our Wounded Warriors and their families are self sufficient, contributing members of our community; living and espousing the Warrior Ethos knowing our Army and Nation remembers their selfless sacrifice.’”
(Elaine Wilson is from the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office)