JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Jan. 20, 2015)-- An Army officer, who was severely wounded in a shooting at Fort Hood last year, is using his near-death experience to give others a new lease on life.
"I believe I was given a second chance," said 1st Lt. John Arroyo, who is recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center here. "I hope my story inspires others to realize that it's never too late to make a change or to make a difference."
Arroyo had three deployments under his belt when he arrived at Fort Hood, deep in central Texas, in November 2013. The California native had enlisted in 1998 as a truck driver, but jumped at the opportunity to become a Green Beret just a few years later. After a dozen years in Special Forces, Arroyo was commissioned and selected for the Medical Service Corps.
He was assigned to the 1st Medical Brigade at Fort Hood as a platoon leader. On April 2, 2014, Arroyo was pulling into brigade headquarters parking when he heard shots fired.
He had just stepped out of his car as another car parked close by. He had no idea the driver was Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, who was just minutes into a shooting spree across post. Lopez had already shot and killed two Soldiers and wounded more than a dozen others in another building by the time he pulled into the brigade parking lot.
The next shot Arroyo heard was the one that ripped through his throat. Gasping for breath, Arroyo stumbled back to his car and fell to the ground. He lay there, bleeding profusely, and struggling to breathe.
"I thought, 'Is this it? Am I going to die?'" he recalled. "But then I heard a voice telling me to get up, to hurry and get up."
With his wife and three children in mind, Arroyo drew on his last reserves of strength to stand up and find help. He held his throat to staunch the bleeding and stumbled toward a man. He suddenly realized he was about to seek aid from the shooter.
"I was within 10 feet of him, but he never saw me," he said. "He walked right past me into the building and started shooting again."
A few Soldiers spotted Arroyo from across the parking lot. They called out: "Soldier, are you OK?" He was somehow able to answer: "I've been shot." With no time to spare, they raced Arroyo to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.
Meanwhile, the shooter was confronted seconds later by a military police officer. She fired a shot at him and he responded by committing suicide. Four Soldiers, including Lopez, were killed and 16 others wounded that day.
Critically injured, Arroyo was rushed to surgery and transferred to Scott and White Memorial Hospital for further care.
He was told his voice box and right arm were damaged beyond repair. Yet, two months later he was talking again and, after months of intense rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid here, has regained the use of his right hand.
His swift recovery wasn't surprising, he said. "I was given a second chance by God," he said. "I should have died in the parking lot that day. I believe I am here for a purpose and will continue to heal."
Hoping to inspire others, Arroyo began sharing his story with everyone from inmates to students to fellow patients and service members. "I want everyone to realize that if they're breathing, they have the opportunity for a second chance."
Arroyo returned to Fort Hood last month to speak at the hospital's Holiday Ball, and to thank the staff for saving his life. One of the nurses was in tears after Arroyo told her another Soldier who had been shot in the spinal cord was walking again, thanks in part to her care.
"I went back to the spot where I was shot," he said. "And I wasn't upset at what had happened. I felt grateful that I was given a second chance to make a difference."
"I don't focus on tomorrow; I finish today," he added. "And I plan to make each day count for something."