Trainee finally being able to continue her Army training in Advance Individual Training after suffering catastrophic injury and preserving through rehabilitation.
Trainee finally being able to continue her Army training in Advance Individual Training after suffering catastrophic injury and preserving through rehabilitation. (Photo Credit: Derika Upshaw) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 23, 2023) — After suffering through a catastrophic injury that could have ended her short career as a Soldier, Pfc. Dominique Lopez graduated basic training Jan. 27, nearly 14 months after she began her Army journey.

Lopez had completed every graduation requirement, with only the final field training exercise (FTX) remaining. The FTX is the culminating event of ten weeks of training, also known as “the Forge.”

Lopez had made it 9.9 miles into the 10-mile ruck march, when she suddenly fell to the ground.

“I did not even realize I had fallen. I could not get up. I slightly started panicking and I was like my leg hurts,” said Lopez.

Medical personnel evaluated Lopez’s injuries and determined that she had fractured her hip, which would require implantation of a stabilizing rod in her hip and hospitalization for a month.

“When it happened, at first I was really angry because I had made it so far and like why did I have to be like‘oh, I’m just going to break my hip now’.”

Following surgery, Lopez began rehabilitation and physical therapy at the hospital. Once she returned to the brigade she was transferred to Bravo Battery. The purpose of this battery is to rehabilitate and recondition trainees to get them back to training. Sgt. First Class Schonenrique Colorado, a drill sergeant in the 95th, has been working with the Warrior Transition Rehabilitation program for a year. He said, depending on the extent of the trainee’s injury they will go through three phases of rehabilitation — red, white, and blue. Since Lopez had surgery and required rehabilitation on her leg, she had to start at the beginning with red phase.

When she arrived at the battery, her outlook and attitude on physical therapy and being in the battery did not improve.

“When I got here I was 10 times angrier because it’s not like a regular battery here. We are kind of just in rehab. So, I was going through the process and it was slow because I couldn’t do certain things, so I was just angry,” said Lopez.

Lopez said her outlook improved after she talked with her mom who told her to “pray, relax, and take her time.” Then a switch went off in her.

“One day I was just like, ‘OK, this is all I have to do. All I have to do is work out, get to where I need to be, and then I can go.’ Like one day I was just like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ Sometimes it's just us getting to the mindset of being tired of feeling angry about it.”

Lopez said that while she was angry, her progress was slow, and she was not progressing as fast as she wanted. When she calmed down, the easier it got and the happier she was. Colorado was one of the main drill sergeants that worked with Lopez who saw a big difference in her attitude and concurs that it helps in getting the work done.

“We wish we had a lot of those trainees like Lopez. She had the attitude of it’s going to suck, But it’s for the better. It is hard to teach the mental resiliency part of recovering from an injury, especially because every day is kind of a it was good on her to keep the right frame of mind."

Lopez went through extensive rehabilitation where she had to relearn a lot of normal functions.

“I did physical therapy three to five times a week. So like red phase you still can’t do much, white phase you can walk a little and you can move everything pretty fairly. But my main goal was to get into blue phase, which took a while because I had to learn how to run again. I went a little early, but after a week and half I wasn’t wobbling anymore. Therapy helped a lot with that.”

Giving up crossed her mind many times during that period.

“I would call my parents and I'd be like ‘I don't know if I want to do this anymore’ and my mom would be like, ‘well, you joined for a reason, you finished basic, so what is the point of going all the way through it? Just to be like oh, never mind.’And she was right. It's hard especially not having family here,” said Lopez.

After those talks with her mom, she realized that there was no turning back. Lopez said that she had come too far to have broken her hip, go through surgery, and start physical therapy and not see it through.

“It's like there's no me going home because it’s basically saying I broke my hip just for fun and that's not what it is," said Lopez.

Family encouragement is not the only way that trainees are able to get help. Bravo battery works closely with the Fort Sill Ready and Resilient (R2) Performance Center, which provides resiliency training and education to help Soldiers in their personal readiness, resilience, and human performance. According to DS Colorado, R2 meets with Trainees weekly. Some of the topics that could be discussed are self-awareness, mental health skills, and optimism.

“They pretty much sit down with the Trainees, do some activities and help get them to put things in perspective and also give them ways get their mind out of those blocks when it feels like they can’t do it anymore,” said Colorado.

He continued to note that this is important because trainees are constantly going through challenging situations and tough workouts. Colorado noted that a big part of a Trainee’s success is knowing that they have people in their corner.

“When you have somebody actively, trying to seek you out, I think that kind of helps. Because a lot of Trainees feel alone. They’re away from family and now they’re here with this adversity. When you show that involvement and when they see the involvement from the providers, I think that helps them with the transition,” said Colorado.

Lopez said that her drill sergeants were helpful in her recovery. They listened to how she was feeling and took the time to explain what she was feeling physically and how each workout helped. They made it feel like her well-being was a priority. She also mentioned that this was not the first time she broke something in her life, and this was the best physical therapy that she received.

Lopez and Colorado both agree that future Trainees going to Bravo, 95th must come with a positive attitude.

“They need to know that “it is going to suck”, but realizing that you already made it this far, pushing to keep going will make things better,” said Lopez.

According to the BDE Surgeon Maj. Debbie Polozeck, who oversees the medical team within the BDE, says most injuries that are seen in the training population is musculoskeletal, such as knee, foot, ankle, hip, and bone stress injury.

“The average age of our trainees is between 17-20 years old. Their bones are still developing and growing. The one thing that strengthens those bones is your dietary intake, so if you’re not getting the vitamin D and the calcium from your diet then if you’re not getting out and playing in the sunshine, and if you’re not doing the hard impact, the running, the jogging, the jumping to build strong bones all have an impact and those factors that work against them, not everyone, but that’s typically what we see when our trainees are injured with the bone injuries,” said Polozeck.

Many of the incoming trainees have previously participated in high school athletics giving them experience in performing physically demanding workouts. However, Polozeck says the Army requires a higher level of physical fitness that these trainees have not yet endured.

“It’s mainly because of the impact. We wear a lot of heavy gear, Nike combat boots, the Advance combat helmet, the rucksacks, our firearms and the equipment to go with them. So that is a lot of extra weight that you’re carrying on top of your body weight. There’s nothing like the impact and endurance that the army basic training is going to require of you. And I tell them the first two weeks of basic training you’re going to discover new muscles that you never knew you had.”

Lopez has continued to her Advanced Individual Training with 428th Field Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill. She says that she is hoping the Army will give her a chance to travel and experience new cultures and places.