Return to Duty
Sgt. Herlinda Rios loved the Army, loved developing and leading Soldiers and loved being part of something bigger than herself. After recovering from injuries sustained in support of the Global War on Terrorism, she returned to duty at Fort Lee as a civilian police officer.

FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 14, 2009) -- Sgt. Herlinda Rios loved the Army, loved developing and leading Soldiers and loved being part of something bigger than herself.

The former military policewoman would probably go as far to say that her Army Combat Uniform might as well be tattooed on.

"I loved it," the eight-year veteran said. "I was a role model, somebody that my Soldiers looked up to for guidance."

Rios suffered injuries during the Global War on Terrorism and ended up in the Warriors in Transition Unit at Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond.

That was December 2007.

The 32-year-old Brownsville, Texas, native has since been discharged from the Army. But like many military members, she has faced sometimes insurmountable challenges in an effort to reintegrate back into civilian life.

"When I first got out, I was having so many problems trying to adapt to civilian life," said Rios, who previously worked as a security guard. "I looked for jobs that gave me that uniform, that sense of belonging, but when I got here, it wasn't even about the uniform. They just said, 'Hey, let's go.'"

The "here" that Rios refers to is the Fort Lee Provost Marshal Office. Its deputy provost marshal, Joe Metzger, said the Fort Lee Police Department was looking to support veterans who had suffered injuries in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan as a measure of allegiance for the sacrifices they've made in service to the country.

"We got involved with the polytrauma unit at the (VA) hospital," said Metzger. "They had a program that when people got to the final stages of treatment, they tried to transition them back into either the military or the civilian sector."

The PMO, along with Fire and Emergency Services, offered ride-alongs to support the program. The Stray Animal Facility also opened its doors for support. Metzger said the veterans liked the ride-alongs with police officers so much that PMO decided to expand the program.

"We started doing it about every week for about five to six people," he said. "We did it for about five or six months."

The program was discontinued about six months ago because of changes in the VA's program management staff, said Metzger.

Metzger said he doesn't believe Rios ever participated in one of the ride-alongs. But when her resume came across his desk, he took a closer look.

"I interviewed her, liked what I heard, loved her enthusiasm and wanted to make her a part of our team," said the Army retiree and former military policeman. "It brings her back to what she enjoys doing and makes our organization feel good because we're supporting the wounded warrior program."

Employment is only one part of the reintegration challenge. How successful Rios would be in her new duties would depend on departmental support. She said everyone welcomed her like a sister-in-arms.

"They've given me 110 percent unconditional support," she said. "They've been there for me whenever I needed them."

One officer in particular, Robert Hurst, is akin to Rios' battle buddy. The former first sergeant, said Rios, seems to have a knack for being there when the waters turn rough.

"It's like he knows ...," she said. "Anything I seem to need, he's like 'I got it.'"

The support was there. Then Rios took care of the rest. She said she approached the job with an open mind and was willing to expand upon her previous experiences.

"I just tried to stick with what I know," she said. "I figured if I did that, it would be easy to pick something up, to learn something new."

Her attitude paid dividends. After a recent home break-in, Rios was called to a residence where a youth was reluctant to talk about anything relating to the crime.

"Investigators went out there (to the home) and couldn't get the kid to talk," said Metzger. "She brought him back, sat him down and got him to confess. That's just good - her ability to relate."

Rios said she never thought she'd work on another military installation after she was injured. With the help of God, the support from the VA and PMO, she said she sees no boundaries to what she can achieve.

"I want to improve myself," she said. "I want to go to all the classes I can, I want to be able to teach others and I want to go through the field training officer program. I'm willing. Let's do it!"

Page last updated Mon August 17th, 2009 at 07:15