Walking with robotic legs, Marine decorated for personal valor in combat

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Captain Derek Herrera, USMC (Retired) vowed he would leave his beloved Corps the same way he came in, on his own two legs. But as reported by KTXL of Sacramento, Calif. on Nov. 23, 2014, and also by the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 22, 2014, the disabled Leatherneck departed the service of his country not only donning ground-breaking medical equipment, but also with a rather prestigious medal presented for his personal valor on the field of battle pinned to his chest.

Wearing the recently approved ReWalk robotic exoskeleton system, which was designed to assist those with spinal cord injuries to stand and walk, Capt. Herrera march across the Parade Deck in Southern California’s sprawling Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base to be awarded the Bronze Star affixed with what the Marines call “the combat V” denoting valor specifically in the face of enemy fire.

The 30-year-old graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD stated to his wife, Maura, and his service dog Shaggy and 300 fellow Marines and guests, “Today is not about me. I’ll be the first one to tell you that the only reason I’m here is so many of you here today that have gotten me to the point that I’m able to stand here and talk to you today.” Not done yet, the Captain also said, “I could easily go and roll up in my wheelchair, but for me it’s a mental and emotional goal that I set for myself: to stand up and walk out of the Marine Corps.”

Felled by an enemy bullet while leading his Special Operations Marines in Southern Afghanistan’s Taliban-heavy Helmand province in June 2012, the fighting Marine not only found himself paralyzed from the chest down, but also suffering from a collapsed left lung. Despite the inability to move and searing pain, Captain Herrera was cited for staying on the battlefield, as well as directing the fight against the enemy. The attacking Taliban was not only repulsed, but wiped out by the AmericanĀ Teufelhunden.

The Captain penned a Thanksgiving Day column for the San Diego Union Tribune last year: “Every day is a choice to live, love, inspire, honor the fallen, make the world a better place and walk in the footsteps of giants.” Medically retired after eight and a half years on active duty, Capt. Herrera is endeavoring to earn his master’s degree in business administration at the nearby University of California Los Angeles. He plans one day to start his own business.