Growing up with two older brothers and a younger step-brother, life has always been competitive, in a one-up-you kind of way. We were always trying to outdo each other and giving each other grief when one of us didn’t live up to our own hype.
So in 2007, ten days after graduating high school, it was only natural for me to follow in my older brothers’ footsteps and join the Navy to serve as a Corpsman. In 2011, I deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
While running to render care to a Marine who had been injured by an improvised explosive device (IED), I also stepped on an IED, which severely injured my right leg. I was sent to Balboa Hospital in San Diego with the expectation that I would have my right leg amputated.
On the day I arrived at Balboa, I was met by Lt. Valdez, my non-medical care manager with Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) – Safe Harbor who advised me to delay my amputation a couple of months until I went off the pain medication to see what a non-medicated life would be like with an injured leg. Lt. Valdez’s advice was the best I have received in my life, and I am very glad I listened to him. Doing so let me see the difficulties I would have had with my leg, and I made a decision to have my leg removed. By delaying my decision, though, I now know that amputation was the right course of action and have absolutely no regret or doubts about it.
Lt. Valdez also told me about NWW’s adaptive athletics program and potentially becoming part of the Navy-Coast Guard team to compete in the 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. I am so glad he did. I was fortunate enough to become part of the 35-person team that competed and, just 11 months after my surgery, I was able to win two gold medals, a silver medal in swimming events for lower-body amputees, and two bronze medals in track.
As great as winning those five medals was, what was more rewarding to me was being part of the Navy-Coast Guard team and finding that same camaraderie I have known since childhood growing up with three brothers. I met others who have lost a part of themselves due to an IED or a rocket-propelled grenade. We can identify with each others’ stories and have developed great friendships that have provided encouragement, along with some of that friendly competitiveness and one-upmanship.
As I prepare to medically-retire from the Navy and transition to the civilian world, I am very thankful for the support provided to me by Lt. Valdez and NWW. The transition assistance has helped me through the retirement process to ensure that I crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s so that I have no issues receiving my benefits.
My older brothers are no longer are in the Navy, but my younger stepbrother has joined the Navy to become – you guessed it – a Corpsman. I know that there are great people within the Navy who will be there to support him if he ever needs them.