Thanks to perseverance and cutting-edge technology, Capt. Derek Herrera will do something once thought impossible: He’ll walk across a stage to receive the Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device.
Herrera, a special operations officer, was paralyzed from the chest down in June 2012 when he was hit by a sniper’s bullet while leading members of Marine Corps Special Operations Command in Afghanistan. He now has a robotic exoskeleton called the “ReWalk” that helps him walk.
On Friday, Herrera will receive a Bronze Star with combat “V” for his heroic actions that day. He’ll be awarded the medal during his retirement ceremony at Camp Pendleton, California. He’ll use the exoskeleton to walk across the stage during the ceremony.
On June 14, 2012, Herrera was leading MARSOC Marines and Afghans on a patrol toward the Helmand River where they were trying to intercept insurgents who were trying to attack a nearby village. On their way, insurgents attacked the team with small arms, machine guns and grenade fire, according to his medal citation.
Herrera climbed to an exposed position on the roof of a nearby building in order to direct his team. While on the roof, one of his teammates was shot in the neck and Herrera provided life-saving medical care when he, too, was wounded.
Even though he was hurt, Herrera continued to coordinate the fight while he received medical care. His efforts inspired the team as they helped the wounded and fought back the enemy, the citation states.
Herrera has remained active, despite his injuries. He has participated in 10 kilometer races and triathlons, earned a business degree and renovated his house. He also was one of the first Americans to use the ReWalk in their home after the Food and Drug Administration approved the device for use outside of medical settings.
The nearly $70,000 exoskeleton includes leg braces, a backpack with a computer and batteries, a watch-like controller, and crutches. With it, he can stand, walk and sit.
It was a goal of Herrera’s to “retire standing on his own, the same way he did when he joined the Marine Corps,” according to a press release from ReWalk Robotics Ltd.
The 2006 Naval Academy graduate will be joined during the ceremony by his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jody Lynch, commander of 1st Marine Raider Battalion.
By Joshua Stewart (Marine Corps Times)