WTU Soldiers graduate, prepare for future
June 7, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.--Two Soldiers from the Fort Sill Warrior Transition Unit recently graduated from Cameron University.
Staff Sgt. Marcos Jimenez and Sgt. Richard Johnson graduated May 4. Even though both of them have been part of the WTU, their paths have been different.
Jimenez was originally stationed at Fort Sill with the 214th Fires Brigade, but was called to serve with the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.
"They needed a sergeant to take a platoon to Afghanistan. We deployed in October 2010, and I was into my fifth month of deployment when our convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device," he said.
Five Soldiers were seriously injured, including Jimenez. "I woke up in Germany five days later. If the imbedded journalist who was with us hadn't taken pictures I wouldn't have known what had happened," he said.
Jimenez sustained a number of severe injuries, including a fractured left arm, a fractured right leg and a fractured spine. He was in a wheelchair for a long time, and was told he wouldn't walk again. He had to learn how to do everything from zero.
"One day I decided I had to get out of that wheelchair," Jimenez said. "The first time I got out I fell, and the second time and the third."
While he was working to walk again, he decided he would go to school. "I started going to college in my wheelchair. Then I went to a walker, then crutches and then a cane," Jimenez said.
The biggest thing he learned from his struggles was that it was all up to him. "The medications and the doctors can only help you so much. The rest of it has to come from you," he said. "I could have given up, but I chose not to.
"When I was in school, I did homework at midnight, because I also have a wife and three boys who needed me. I'm a wounded warrior but I'm also a Soldier, a father and a husband. The day I walked across the stage I said to myself 'How did I do all this?'" Jimenez said. "After that I became rather emotional because I realized God gave me an opportunity to live life again, because I could have died. When they found me in the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected truck, they thought I was dead since it was completely crushed."
Jimenez now plans to put his degree in information technology to good use. But first, he still has a few more surgeries to complete. "The people here at the WTU and the doctors have been great. But, if wounded Soldiers don't have the drive within to get better, they're not going to. Everything is a fight, and you've got to have the will to get up and take control of your life," he said.
Johnson's path to graduation was different and more arduous. He deployed with the 46th Military Police Command to Iraq in 2007.
"We got hit by an IED and I had back injuries and a leg injury. I ended up having four surgeries on my back and one on my leg. It happened a week and half before we were leaving country," Johnson said. He has been in the WTU for four long years, struggling to put his life back together while the doctors reassembled his body.
"Going to school was a challenge. It's hard to go to school in the WTU sometimes, because you have to have all of the important elements in line with each other. When you don't have those elements lined up, it makes it a little bit difficult sometimes to accomplish your goals," Johnson said.
"I had a lot of particular skill sets when I got to this unit. They used me for those skill sets, but then it got to the point where my medical conditions really started to cause problems. When I started to have my surgeries and I started being down, I was no longer that go-to-guy," Johnson said. "That's kind of what happened to me."
Johnson soon found support from his vocational rehabilitation coordinator, who helped him stay on track with his education. That experience led him to pursue a career in counseling. "I have come to realize that the people who will really help veterans are people who have been in the military, people who had dependents in the military, or people with close ties with the military," Johnson said. "The average person out there appreciates Soldiers and does what they can, but that is about as far as it goes. So I decided that I wanted to go into counseling."
Johnson has been accepted at the University of Tennessee in their graduate program and will study vocational rehabilitation counseling so he can become a licensed professional counselor.
"I would like to get a job with Veterans Affairs and take some of the lessons I learned from my Army experiences and make things better. That's my ultimate goal. I've spent a long time thinking about this and I decided that I can channel the feelings I have and make a difference," he said.
"Even if it's only helping a few Soldiers, I will feel I have made a difference," said Johnson.