By By Elaine Sanchez, Brooke Army Medical Center Public AffairsFebruary 22, 2013
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Feb. 15, 2013 -- Marine Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos was browsing a store in South Texas when he overheard a passerby talking about his robotic arm.
The man approached the Marine and asked him a question that Gallegos still cringes about today: "Is that a Halloween costume?"
The typically laid-back Marine immediately "took him to task," explaining he had lost his right arm in an explosion in Afghanistan.
Due to insensitive comments like this one, the Marine now wears a jacket outside, despite the sweltering Texas heat. "I just want to avoid the stares," said Gallegos, who is undergoing rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid.
At Brooke Army Medical Center, the staff is accustomed to the sight of Wounded Warriors with prosthetic limbs or visible scars. Rather than stares or whispers, their presence evokes a deep sense of pride and gratitude.
However, as Gallegos has discovered, this sentiment isn't always echoed elsewhere. When he's out in short sleeves, people either stare or shower him with a torrent of personal questions that he'd rather not broach.
"It's embarrassing," he said. "And, to me as a Marine, it shows a lack of respect."
These people typically see just a disability, he said, rather than a symbol of courage and sacrifice.
Gallegos was wounded in October 2010 in the Sangin district of Afghanistan's Helmand province. He was walking in a patrol when he stepped into an irrigation canal and heard an explosion. He blacked out and when he awoke, he saw his arm floating by. It had been severed just below the shoulder. He was medevaced to BAMC, where he began the long and painful journey of recovery.
He's overcome tremendous challenges, but declines to call himself a hero. He'd rather reserve that honor for his fellow patient and personal hero, Army Sgt. JD Williams, a triple amputee who was wounded by an IED explosion in 2010, while serving his country in Afghanistan.
This past decade of war has seen a higher survivability rate than at any other time in history. As a result, communities will be welcoming back more Wounded Warriors with devastating injuries in the coming months and years than ever before.
These Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines should be afforded the same respect and consideration as anyone else, Gallegos said. Focus on the person and his or her ability, not disability.
The Marine would like to prevent other wounded Service Members from having to experience what he did while in that store in South Texas. Fortunately, he said, not everyone shares that man's point of view.
In fact, just moments after that man walked away, a mom and her young daughter, who were shopping nearby, approached him. "I overheard what that guy said to you," the mother said. "And I want to say I'm so sorry for what he said, and thank you for your service." She nudged her daughter: "Thank you for your service," the girl shyly told the Marine.
If more people reacted like them, then countless Wounded Warriors could be saved needless embarrassment or discomfort. And Gallegos could remove his jacket and display his robotic arm for what it is -- a badge of courage and honor.