FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, Jan. 12, 2007) -
By Elaine Wilson, fort Sam Houston Public Information Office
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.
The former sergeant is the second civil service employee hired at Fort Sam Houston through the Army Wounded Warrior Program, and the first amputee. The program, dubbed AW2, is designed for Soldiers severely wounded in the Global War on Terrorism. 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 here. "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.
Deployed before, the former infantryman deployed to Afghanistan in April 2004, with the 25th Infantry out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Just a few weeks in country, 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. 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 leg was gone.
"Then the pain hit me. I was conscious the whole time. On the way to the hospital, all I could thing 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. His desire to stay in the Army and 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 PT test.
Fitted with the latest in prosthesis, a computerized leg, DeLeon could walk, bike, drive, do just about anything - but run. Despite extensive running training at Brooke Army Medical Center, 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 it down."
Ferguson said she will continue to encourage wounded warriors to apply. "We are pleased with our success thus far, but recognize that there are many more positions that can be filled with wounded warriors. 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 there selfless sacrifice.'"
Ah, but as always, there is MORE to the story.
Who would have ever envisioned that 11 operations and less than a year later Jorge DeLeon would be all pumped to participate in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 6? He had come to compete in the hand-crank wheelchair division of the 26.2-mile race that weaves through the City of Angels' downtown streets.
Who would have imagined that he would be one of the participants in Soldier Ride - a cross-country bike ride of wounded warriors to raise funds to assist their fellow wounded?
DeLeon served with the 1st Brigade/504th Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne. He logged a total of 71 jumps. As a paratrooper, he went to Kosovo and Macedonia and did his first tour in Afghanistan. He served with the 506th Infantry (Air Assault) based at Camp Greaves on the DMZ in Korea. He finally served with the 25th ID, which sent him to Afghanistan the second time around.
The pride and determination that Jorge DeLeon exhibits can be a lesson to each of us! I'm proud to live in a country with such fine citizens at Jorge DeLeon.