Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for June 20, 2011 - Sgt. 1st Class Ray Castillo

Sergeant First Class Ray Castillo

Current Unit: 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
Current Position: Operations Sergeant
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Years of Service: 12

Epitomizing the warrior ethos of “I will never quit” and “I will never accept defeat,” Sgt. 1st Class Ray Castillo still serves his country, even after being critically wounded in Iraq. Throughout an extensive recovery process, he remained focused on eventually returning to his fellow Rangers—and two years later, he did just that.

“Just because I lost my limbs doesn’t mean I can’t give my experience and my knowledge to other guys, (but) I understood eventually I was going to be behind a desk,” he said. “There’s nothing I could’ve done about that. I still wanted to be in the military, I still wanted to contribute.”

In early 2009, Castillo was serving as a platoon sergeant in Iraq with the 75th Ranger Regiment. He and his platoon were pursuing a high-value enemy target, when the dismounted platoon was ambushed by insurgents. During the skirmish, a command-detonated improvised explosive device (IED) hit Castillo.

“It was real quick. [The enemy] hid it really well in the ground. I got to that location, and it just went off. … I blacked out for a short period of time, but I remember the explosion going off and flying through the air,” he said, recalling the incident.

Castillo was immediately evacuated to the hospital, where he was treated for multiple injuries, including a punctured lung and lacerations to his liver, spleen, intestines and right kidney. In addition to the internal damage, he lost his right foot during the blast.

When Castillo awoke from a medically-induced coma several weeks later, he learned that he had been transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and that both of his legs had been amputated above the knee.

“I wasn’t expecting to see 70 percent of my legs gone,” he said.

Although he faced an uphill recovery battle, his dedication to the Army never wavered. While recuperating at Walter Reed, he took the oath of enlistment from his hospital bed, surrounded by his family.

Castillo was later transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he was fitted for prosthetics and began intense rehabilitation.

“My focus was just to get back to my unit,” he said. “I worked really hard every day as much as I could because that was my main focus — recovery and getting better so I could get back to my unit and continue working.”

In early 2010, he returned to his unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., but he still had to pass a medical evaluation board to stay in the Army. He successfully cleared that hurdle, and he plans to continue to serve in the Army for many years to come.

As he continues the healing process, he has learned to appreciate everyday victories.

“Even when it snowed in Washington, just going through the snow and it being slippery, I don’t feel where I step until I put my weight on it,” he said. “I drive, too, and that’s a learning curve. … My endurance and balance are getting much better. Being able to do random chores around the house or just doing stuff at work is getting better. It’s gotten easier, with time.”

Castillo is currently an operations sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. In the future, he hopes to serve as an Army instructor.

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