Changing your career course isn't always easy. Sometimes, it's not even a change you want to make. For Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Freddy Torres, change and adversity aren't new. For the past year, Torres has been the chief instructor for the Headquarters and Support Battalion's professional military education program, specifically teaching the Corporals' Course and Lance Corporal Seminar at Camp Pendleton, California. Before that, he was an infantryman and earned the Purple Heart after suffering a serious leg wound in Afghanistan. Doctors gave him little hope for a full recovery, but Torres defied the odds. Now, he uses his experience to mentor young Marines.
My main mission is to take the curriculum to another level. In order for these corporals to pick up the next rank, which is sergeant, they have to graduate Corporals' Course. I'm going to mold him or her into what I believe a good sergeant should be. Being a sergeant comes with major responsibility. It's a rank I don't take lightly because the sergeant is 100 percent responsible for the training, development and welfare of 12 other Marines. A sergeant is responsible for getting him on a plane into a combat zone and returning him back to our country as safely as possible.
In 2004, there was a Marine [from] my neighborhood, Lance Cpl. Joshua Lucero. He was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, days after Thanksgiving, and it really cut the neighborhood that I grew up in. The following year, I graduated from the same high school Joshua did. I had become good friends with his little brother and sister, and I would hear the stories of Joshua and how he was a hero — not just because he was a Marine, but because he was a loving, caring person. He took care of others more than himself, and that's the type of leader I wanted to be. Joshua Lucero was one of the reasons why I wanted to be a Marine.
But before that, honestly, the real reason was 9/11. That was a day that shocked all of us and left us sad and confused. I knew from that day on that I wanted to serve my country and defend all freedom.
In 2010, I was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, which was tasked with taking on the Taliban in the Sangin District of Afghanistan's Helmand Province. When we arrived, we saw white flags raised high on the corners of all the houses throughout the village. When somebody thinks "white flag," they think surrender. Well, the Taliban had a different agenda. These white flags had black spray-painted phrases like "Death to Americans," and "Death to infidels."
We were completely surrounded and outnumbered.
On Dec. 30, I was on a foot patrol as squad leader in the early morning when the Taliban attacked us with machine guns. I took two gunshot wounds to the thighs; one of those hit my femoral artery. I looked down to my legs, and all I saw was flesh and blood. At this point of the deployment, we were three and a half months in, and my battalion had 24 dead. I truly thought I was going to be No. 25. But I had a great corpsman [medic] and a corporal at the time, who worked on me and were able to get me out of the area.
Yes. Doctors told me that the recovery — any recovery — was going to be 12-24 months. They said there was a possibility that one of my legs would have to be amputated because of the amount of nerve damage. It was extremely difficult because I'm a very active person, and I was restricted to a hospital bed. But what hurt the most was that doctors were telling me that I would never be able to wear the Marine Corps uniform again.
Yes, I took that news as a challenge. I was lying in a hospital bed while my boys were still in Afghanistan; so, I stopped feeling sorry for myself, and I set some goals. I learned how to walk all over again. Every day I took a few more steps, and I got a little bit stronger.
The doctors were only putting me through physical therapy twice a week, but I would go on my own to Belvoir Naval Hospital and do my own thing using their equipment. I would go to the gym to work out my legs, because that's where I had to gain my strength.
After all my wounds were closed, I would get in the swimming pool almost every day. The doctors were shocked that, four and a half months later, I was running up and down the hills of Camp Pendleton with weight on my back. I was eventually cleared for duty again, which was a huge relief.
Torres received the Purple Heart for his actions. He moved on to a new unit — 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division — and was deployed three more times to combat zones.
It was really hard for me. I reached out to my senior leadership, a lot of my mentors and some officers, and they helped me get through the first couple of months. It's tough, knowing something for my entire adult life and then coming here and not having the same camaraderie and cohesion that I had in my last unit.
But once I was given the opportunity to instruct and teach, I took full advantage of it. I've been able to make an impact on these young Marines who don't deploy and don't go into the field. They don't see the other side of the Marine Corps — the deploying side, the warfighting side. I bring all of those stories and experiences, and I teach it here.
I don't necessarily talk about my experiences until the end of the course. I usually start out talking in the third person, and, once I'm done with the story, I tell them it was me I was talking about and that I'm sharing my story because they're going to face their own challenges, battles and adversity. I'm here to let them know they can overcome them.
It took me about eight, nine years to finally open up and be able to share that story. But over the last year, I've shared it about four times. I've been to the point where I see tears in the Marines' eyes, and, at the end of it, they thank me for the inspiration and impact on how I've developed and changed them.
You take a Marine from the beginning, and you see the transformation of a better leader, a better, ethical warrior. Ultimately, that's what matters. This organization is going to be a lot better if we teach Marines at a young age to be better leaders and to take care of their brains. If you teach them that, they're going to go back and do that with their Marines.
We see it here. Academically, physically and mentally, we see their character grow. So, it's a great sense of accomplishment.
The highlight of my career would have to be that I've gotten to go to over 15 countries, but I would also say it's the friendships and the family that I've made. The brothers that I've made over the last 13 years, I can still call them for support or whatever I need.
Torres was promoted to gunnery sergeant on Nov. 1, 2019. He says he plans to stay in the service for as long as the Marine Corps will have him. Thank you for your service and dedication, Gunnery Sgt. Torres!