FORT POLK, La. — The possibility of being shot at is something Soldiers know they can face at any time during combat. Whether it’s from the enemy in a coordinated attack, or a sniper hidden from view, the threat is always there when a Soldier is down range.
But it’s not necessarily something those same Soldiers expect to face at their home duty stations, away from a combat environment. Yet that is just what 1st Lt. John Arroyo faced at Fort Hood, Texas, on the afternoon of April 2, 2014.
Arroyo, now a retired captain, was one of 19 Soldiers shot by Spc. Ivan Lopez at the end of a “normal” work day at the sprawling post in central Texas. Four Soldiers died — including Lopez, who took his own life. Arroyo, a former Green Beret Soldier before completing the Army’s Green-to-Gold officer program and entering the medical field, shared his story during the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk’s National Day of Prayer Breakfast May 5 in the Warrior Center.
Arroyo told of how he had been a “failure” in everything he had attempted from his pre-teen years until entering the Army in 1998.
“I was in trouble all of the time,” he said. “I cheated, I stole, I was a drug addict and was a father in the ninth grade. I think the only reason I was passed in school is because they didn’t want a 21-year-old with a beard in the ninth grade.”
Once in the Army, Arroyo said things began to change in a positive manner, but he still had trouble with life’s priorities.
“My focus was on trying to make the most money for my Family, when in reality, my Family didn’t want that,” he said. “They wanted me.”
Arroyo said it took nearly dying from a .45 caliber bullet wound to his neck for God to open his eyes to what was important — Family and a relationship with Jesus. He related the events of April 2, 2014: How he took a bullet through his neck and shoulder; how doctors feared for his life; his seemingly miraculous recovery; his continued career in the military; and what he feels God saved him for — to give others hope in the face of despair.
He said that as he lay on the ground, his lifeblood flowing onto the pavement, a “voice” — one he now believes was from God — told him to get up, twice. Looking back on that day, Arroyo said he wondered why the voice had to tell him twice.
“Because I didn’t listen the first time,” he said. “I didn’t think that I would have had one more opportunity. I’m a man of faith, and I believe I had a divine encounter. The Army says there is a spiritual pillar in the comprehensive fitness program. For me in that moment, God was speaking to me.”
But like most people would think in that situation, Arroyo said he wondered since he was the one who was bleeding out, why would God tell him to get up or his wife would die?
“I believe God was telling me that if I died my wife would take her life,” he said.
Throughout his recovery, Arroyo said his faith sustained him and he could feel the presence of God at all times. He said he believes God brought him through the ordeal so he could be an example to others that no matter how desperate situations or conditions might seem, there is hope for restoration in Jesus.
Arroyo said he now spends his time with his spouse, Angel, and shares his message of hope with others.
“God saved me for a reason,” he said. “We are all special to God, and He can use us for His glory. No matter what you’re going through, there is hope in Christ.”