A Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera

June 24, 2008

Early Saturday morning, my family and I got up early and headed towards Corpus Christi to spend the weekend spoiling our grandbaby. I was pretty excited about the trip, not only because I’d be able to see … errrrr spoil little Kendall, but I was finally going to be able to meet someone who I’ve featured here at A Soldier’s Mind, when I wrote this story and this one. I was finally going to be able to meet Bob Kunkle, as he was in San Antonio to make contact with staff at BAMC and the Center For The Intrepid, so that he could begin his self defense demonstrations there. We had arranged to meet Bob in San Antonio for breakfast and he told me that he was bringing a special guest with him, a Wounded Warrior named Sgt. Manny Herrera. It turned out that Manny and Bob were headed to Corpus Christi as well, so I was able to ride with them and hear Manny’s story. It’s one I’ll never forget. He’s definitely someone that I want our readers to know.

He’s a quiet and unassuming man. It’s obvious when you first meet him that he’s a Soldier; a Wounded Warrior, which is obvious as he has to use a cane to walk around. You see it in his bearing and because of the hat he wears, proclaiming him to be a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His story is a remarkable one.

He grew up in California and by his own admission, he found himself getting into trouble as a teenager. When he was 17, he decided that he needed some direction and his life and enlisted in the Army at the age of 17. He served his country proudly, doing tours in Panama, Desert Storm and Somalia. After 13 ½ years active duty, he got out of the Army. At the time he was living in El Paso, when he was offered a job as a car salesman at Peoria Pontiac GMV in Phoenix, Az. As the market for cars began getting worse, he took a job at Shamrock Towing in Phoenix and continued his life as a civilian.

One day, he received a call to tow a 1967 Corvette. When he arrived, the owner of the car asked him to be very careful with the car, as it had special meaning to him. He had purchased the car right after he returned from Viet Nam. As he pulled the cover off of the car to begin hooking it up for towing, he noticed a tag bearing two stars. He immediately recognized the significance of those two stars. “Sir,” he said as he crisply saluted the General. The gentleman returned his salute and then told him that he didn’t have to Salute him, because he was no longer in the military. As they visited, the General asked him if he had ever considered coming back in the military, since he had so many years invested and was so close to retirement. The general went on to say that he should consider joining the National Guards. As they parted ways, the general gave him a $20 tip.

He continued doing his job with the towing company, making a living to raise his family. Then 9/11 happened. He began thinking more about what the general told him, especially when he watched the news and saw the reports about the young Soldiers being injured and killed and kept hearing about the multiple deployments. That made him angry. One day, as his job brought him near the National Guard Armory. He stopped and asked to speak with the recruiter. The recruiter wasn’t there. He waited for awhile and then finally left and didn’t think much more of it.

Time past and he continued working for the towing company. One day, while doing through things at home, he ran across his DD214 (Discharge papers). That got him thinking again about what the General said and the reports he continued to see about Iraq in the news. He stopped at the National Guard Armory, to see what it would take for him to reenlist. This time the recruiter was there and he began the process of re-entering the Army. He went to MEPPS and took his oath of enlistment. He had requested that the General who owned the corvette, swear him in and he was more than happy to do just that. He reenlisted for 6 years. He found out that he had missed a sign on bonus for his MOS by a month, so he was given the option of decreasing his enslistment to 3 years. He declined that offer.

Shortly afterwards, word came that part of his National Guard Unit would be deploying to Iraq. Thinking again about the young Soldiers being injured and killed, he volunteered for the mission and shortly afterwards, was deployed to Iraq. The mission of his unit was to act as a security force for convoys that were traveling all over Iraq. After being in Iraq for about 6 months, the 1st week of November he was out on a convoy mission. An IED went off and a firefight ensued, but they made it out safely. About 2 weeks later, on another mission in Southern Baghdad, their convoy again got hit by an IED. They made it through that one safely as well. Just a week later, they were heading into FOB Speicher, when they were hit by another IED. This time he wasn’t as lucky. Both of his eardrums were blown out from the force of the explosion, he ended up with TBI, injuries to the lower disk in his neck and a disk in the thoracic region of his back. He remembers activating the NTS distress signal as the explosion occurred. The next thing he remembers was seeing medics standing over him and rushing him to a chopper. He was flown to the 28th Combat Support Hospital (CHS) in Baghdad. The force of the blast affected his balance, memory, speech. He was confused, and couldn’t comprehend much. He was flown to Landsthul for further evaluation. He was in Germany for 17 days before being flown to Walter Reed.

Back at home, his wife had been notified for the third time that his convoy had been hit by an IED> By this time, she was pretty stressed and very frustrated, because they’d hadn’t provided her with many details about the extent of his injuries. Thanks for Soldiers Angels and Fisher House Foundation, his wife was brought to Walter Reed to be at his side as he began his recovery. Initially, the extent of his injuries were such that he didn’t recognize his wife, which was very upsetting to her. As his wife learned about his injuries, she became his primary cheerleader and care giver.

He said that initially, his speech was worse than Porky Pig, stuttering and having difficult getting out what he was attempting to say. He was transferred to a VA Hospital in the DC area which had a brain injury center. At Walter Reed, at the time, there wasn’t much expertise in working with brain injured patients yet. He began doing Physical Therapy, speech therapy and working to improve his motor skills …. all which were affected by the injuries he suffered in the blast. Shortly afterwards, his wife had to return to Arizona, as their children needed her home to care for them. His sister came out from California, to be by his side. Finally, after much hard work, he was able to become more mobile by using a wheelchair and sometimes walk with the use of a cane.

It was while he was at Walter Reed that he met Bob Kunkle. He says that he related to Bob, as had been a Soldier and was injured while he served in VietNam. He says that he tended to be a loner and not associate with other people much. After spending time with Bobhe finally felt that he could be trusted and accepted his invitation to go out with Bob to a local restaurant.

His stay at Walter Reed, was beginning to become a financial burden to his family, with them being clear across the country in Arizona. Due to that, he was eventually transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. When he first arrived at BAMC, they had a subcontract with a rehabilitation facility called RIOSA> He received treatment there for approximately 5-6 month, learning how to dress himself and shower by himself, without assistance.

Even though his family and the nursing staff, kept telling him that they were seeing much improvement, he couldn’t see it. He was stuck in negative thinking. He said that he kept going through the various stages of recovery and would hit a plateau, where he stayed about the same, but his condition didn’t improve or regress. He was getting frustrated and depressed. He felt that he was damaged goods and a burden to his family. He said that a couple of times, he had contemplated giving up on himself and committing suicide. One day though, he was talking to his son. He became overwhelmed when his son said to him, “Dad, you’re not stumbling over your words as much. He said that made him feel really good. Then he got a letter from another of his sons. In that letter, his son wrote that he was so grateful that he had not lost his life in Iraq. His son continued to say that he didn’t know what he would have done if he’d died over there, that he didn’t think he would have been able to live himself if that would have happened. That gave him the motivation to go on and continue on his road to recovery. He challenged himself to do what he could to get better.

After being at RIOSA for about 5-6 months, he was able to move about good and was more and more independent. He was eventually moved back to BAMC and assigned to a WTU with Judith Markle in charge of his WTU.

In March of this year, Manny returned home to Arizona for a ceremony honoring the Soldiers who served in his unit. The non-profit groups, Packages From Home and Peoria Pontiac GMC were participating in the ceremony and asked the commanders in Manny’s unit to provide them with a list of Soldiers who had received Purple Hearts in Iraq. They would then chose one Soldier and present them with a special surprise. The unit provided a long list of Soldiers from the unit who’d been injured in Iraq and had received Purple Hearts. SGT Manny Herrera was among that list. Little did Manny know that his commanders had told them about Manny going out of his way while he was in Iraq to collect water bottle caps to help some school children who were collecting them to help others. Manny did this in Iraq, on his spare time between missions and without anyone asking him to do so. Because of his selfless and giving nature, which the owner of Peoria Pontiac GMC, Steve Moore said was just Manny, he was chosen for the award. Steve went on to say, that of all the Soldiers on the list, Manny stood out among them and that it was ironic how his life had came “full circle,” from his time working for Steve in his dealership to Steve being able with the keys to a 2008 GMC fully-loaded full-size crew cab pick-up. As you can see from the photo above, Manny was overcome with emotion at the honor and at a loss for words. Manny told me that everyone was telling him was a hero. Manny doesn’t feel that he’s in any way a Hero. He feels that he was doing the same thing, that any other Soldier would have done, given the same opportunity. In my eyes and the eyes of many others, SGT Manny Herrera IS a Hero and always will be.

Last week, Manny was honored to be a guest at the Army Birthday Ball in Washington DC. There he was able to enjoy himself and receive the recognition he deserved. I was lucky enough to see photos of him at the ball, with Vice President Dick Cheney and US Army Chief of Staff, George Casey Jr. You could tell that Manny was thrilled to be among the crowd. Unfortunately, his wife was unable to accompany him to the ball, as she was home in preparing to take her US Citizenship exam. Manny’s face lit up as he proudly exclaimed, that his wife had passed her exam and is now a US Citizen.

Manny is continuing his recovery and he’s becoming stronger every day. His speech is improving, he’s able to walk and get around with the assistance of a cane. He doesn’t know what the future holds for him at this point. He’s still not sure if he’ll be able to remain in the Army, or if he’ll be medically discharged. But regardless, he’s ready to face whatever life brings him and he attributes his continued recovery to people who’ve become an integral part of his recovery. I plan to keep in contact with Manny, as he’s just a short drive down the road.

“They say that everything is BIG in Texas. They’re right. They have BIG hearts, they love their service men and women. It’s a great feeling. They’re so supportive. The support of everyone in the United States and in Texas, for the troops means a lot to me. When this first happened, I often thought about a saying, “United We Stand – Divided We Fall. To me, that means that in the United States, there is always someone there to help pick you up when you fall. You don’t have to stand alone.”


6 Responses to “A Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera”

  1. Atlanta Pontiac Dealers » Blog Archive » A Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera on June 24th, 2008 1:48 am

    [...] Read the rest of this great post here [...]

  2. Across Country » Blog Archive » A Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera [A Soldier's Mind] on June 24th, 2008 2:19 am

    [...] A Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera [A Soldier's Mind] His stay at Walter Reed, was beginning to become a financial burden to his family, with them being clear across the country in Arizona. [...]

  3. » A Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera Another Found Self: What The World Is Saying About Another Found Self on June 24th, 2008 5:13 am

    [...] Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera Posted in June 24th, 2008 by in Uncategorized A Life That Came Full Circle: SGT Manny Herrera I was finally going to be able to meet Bob Kunkle, as he was in San Antonio to make contact with [...]

  4. mobile home on June 24th, 2008 6:03 am

    [...] to meet Bob Kunkle, as he was in San Antonio to make contact with staff at BAMC and the Center For https://soldiersmind.com/2008/06/24/sgt-manny-herrera-a-hero-you-should-know/6 killed in central La. mobile home fire San Diego Union-TribuneSix people are dead after a fire [...]

  5. learning how to drive after a brain injury on June 26th, 2008 2:39 pm

    [...] about the trip, not only because I??d be able to see ?? errrrr spoil little Kendall, but I was finahttp://soldiersmind.com/2008/06/24/sgt-manny-herrera-a-hero-you-should-know/Ongoing Events The World OnlineAll calendar submissions should be sent to editorvt-world.com or [...]

  6. arizona tours on July 25th, 2008 3:58 pm

    [...] about the trip, not only because I??d be able to see ?? errrrr spoil little Kendall, but I was finahttp://soldiersmind.com/2008/06/24/sgt-manny-herrera-a-hero-you-should-know/Power of the past - Baker City HeraldAn arizona man in his mid 50s took a tour of the plant and told [...]

Got something to say?