By Elaine Wilson
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Aug. 10, 2006 – An improvised explosive device may have robbed Delaney Rocky Perez of his military career, but an Army program has given Perez an opportunity to serve again -- this time as a civilian. Perez is the first civil service employee hired at Fort Sam Houston through the Army Wounded Warrior Program.
The program, dubbed AW2, is designed for soldiers severely wounded in the global war on terrorism. AW2 provides information and assistance to aid soldiers and their families through the recovery process and beyond, from medical evacuation to reintegration into the work force. "The program provides a great opportunity for us to recognize and hire warriors, like Rocky, who have sacrificed for our nation," said Sharon Ferguson, director of the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center at Fort Sam Houston. "We're thrilled to bring him on board."
Perez said he is just happy to be working again, particularly after spending the past three years on a physically and mentally challenging road to recovery. The former Marine-turned-Army officer was injured Sept. 28, 2003, while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was riding in the lead vehicle of a convoy when the explosion hit. The second lieutenant's first thought was the rear tire of the Humvee he was riding on had blown out.
"I didn't think we were hit, but then I heard ringing in my ear and saw the soldier in front of me bleeding from his lip," he said. "Then I tasted blood and could see specks of blood on my glasses." Perez reached over to render first aid to the other soldier, "but my right leg wouldn't move," he said.
The roadside bomb had ruptured Perez' right eardrum and riddled his body with shrapnel, one piece missing a main artery by only two centimeters. Perez was medically evacuated to Baghdad for emergency surgery, then to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany. His journey ended at Brooke Army Medical Center here, about 65 miles north of his hometown of Three Rivers, Texas. With a prescription for long-term physical therapy in hand, Perez returned to Fort Carson, Colo., then received an assignment to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in 2004.
With ongoing medical problems, Perez medically retired from the Army in 2006. His military service may have ended, but his desire to serve did not. "I heard the Army was looking for wounded soldiers to serve in civil service jobs. I jumped at the opportunity to work in a secure job that is still contributing to the military," he said. Perez submitted a resume to the AW2 program, and it wasn't long before he was matched up with a job at Fort Sam Houston, working as the administrative officer in the garrison commander's office.
"Our goal is to get AW2 soldiers seeking employment connected with employers, whether federal service, a corporation or state or local entity," said Tim Winter, AW2 labor liaison specialist at the program's headquarters in Alexandria, Va. But first and foremost, Winter said, the Army is committed to helping soldiers stay on active duty. "There are a number of AW2 soldiers who continue on in the Army, but if that's not the desire of the soldier, we prefer to keep him in the family as a Department of the Army civilian. We follow the warrior ethos: 'I will never leave a fallen comrade.'"
Since Perez was the first hired under the program at Fort Sam Houston, Winter said the successful placement took "good coordination between the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Civilian Human Resources Agency and CPAC." The hiring process was a challenge, Ferguson said, "particularly since we had never hired anyone through the program here. We had to deal with paperwork issues along with garrison funding restraints," she said, adding that Perez has been the only exception to a garrison hiring freeze.
With one job placement under their belts, CPAC officials are looking to expand on their success -- they have already started the process to hire an amputee. "These young soldiers join the military to serve their country, are injured in war, then what do they do? This program allows us to take those soldiers, who have sacrificed so much, and give them a job opportunity, a chance to use their skills," said Eugene Hill, human resources specialist at CPAC. "It's an opportunity to show how much we appreciate what they've done. And, on their end, it's an opportunity for them to show us what they can do."