JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (April 6, 2015) -- A Special Forces Soldier, who was severely wounded in the Fort Hood shooting last year, received the Army's highest non-combat honor for valor here, April 6.
Maj. Gen. Jimmie O. Keenan, Army Medical Command's deputy commanding general-operations, presented the Soldier's Medal to Army 1st Lt. John M. Arroyo Jr. in front of a packed crowd of family and friends.
"I give all the glory to God, because I took a .45 to the throat and lived," Arroyo told the audience. "But this medal isn't about me. I accept this award for the Soldiers who passed that day. And for the Soldiers and leaders who made lifesaving decisions. Without them, my wife would be receiving this award, not me."
Despite severe wounds to his throat and right arm, Arroyo was able to alert other Soldiers that there was a shooter in the area, April 2, 2014. "He was heroically involved in personal harm and danger, voluntarily risking his life to save the lives of fellow Soldiers," the medal citation reads.
A year ago this month, Arroyo had just pulled into brigade headquarters parking when he heard shots fired. The next shot he heard was the one that ripped through his throat. Gasping for breath, he fell to the ground, but distinctly heard a voice telling him to "hurry and get up."
He stumbled toward a man for help before realizing he was about to seek aid from the shooter, Army Spc. Ivan Lopez. Lopez had already shot and killed two Soldiers and wounded more than a dozen others in another building by the time he pulled into that parking lot.
Three Soldiers spotted Arroyo across the parking lot with what looked like a red scarf around his neck. They realized he was bleeding profusely from the throat and, without any regard for their own safety, rushed to provide their comrade lifesaving care. Those first responders - Staff Sgt. Juan Morales, Staff Sgt. Raymond Borrego and Sgt. David Amaro - were in the audience - seeing Arroyo in person for the first time since the shooting.
Morales recalled rushing to Arroyo's side, cradling him as the Soldiers worked to staunch the bleeding. "When I got to him, he whispered to me, 'He's in the brigade,'" he said. The Soldier immediately called 911.
The shooter was confronted moments 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.
With his throat and right arm critically injured, Arroyo was rushed to surgery at Carl R. Darnall Army Community Hospital and transferred to Scott and White Memorial Hospital for further care.
In her remarks at the ceremony, Keenan recalled visiting Arroyo at Scott and White. He could not talk due to a tracheotomy so he communicated with the general via white board.
"That day in his hospital room, John gave me something: a Special Forces patch. I told him I will always carry this in my pocket. And I do," the general said as she pulled the patch out of her uniform pocket. "I carry it to remind me of the type of Soldiers and leaders we have in this Army.
"And that's the type of leader and Soldier John Arroyo is," she said, "selfless, always thinking about others, and always giving back."
Keenan praised the first responders, and all who have been involved in his care and support over the past year. "The progress John has made is truly phenomenal. He would not have made that progress without his family, his spiritual beliefs, and without the tremendous team that wrapped their arms around him and his family to make sure that he was taken care of," she said.
Arroyo thanked Keenan for transferring him to Brooke Army Medical Center, or BAMC. "She put me in the hands of world-renowned doctors," he said, "at the number one DoD [Department of Defense] facility for rehabilitation and the number one facility for [occupational therapy]."
Arroyo had been 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, BAMC's outpatient rehabilitation facility, has regained the use of his right hand.
As he continues to recover, Arroyo shares his story with everyone he meets.
"He talks to Soldiers, prisoners and students about making the most of second chances," Keenan said. "He's not only a phenomenal leader, but a tremendous Soldier."
Arroyo said he survived for a purpose and plans to make the most of his second chance.
"No way was I going to lay on the ground," the Special Forces Soldier said at the ceremony. "It is going to take a lot more than a .45 to take a Green Beret out."
The Soldier's Medal is the highest honor a Soldier can receive for an act of valor in a non-combat situation, equal to or greater than the level that would justify a Distinguished Flying Cross if the act had occurred in combat. Notable recipients include Colin Powell, who rescued his comrades from the wreckage of a helicopter crash in Vietnam, and personnel who risked their lives to assist comrades in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.