Resiliency helps wounded warrior return to workforce

By Cathy Hopkins DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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Defense Logistics Agency Aviation senior leaders met in Richmond, Virginia, March 1 -3, for a three- day Senior Leader Conference. The theme was building a culture of innovation and resiliency. In addition to resiliency training, senior leaders also spent time reflecting on their goals, leadership style, what motivates them and why they come to work every day.

To bring home the importance of practicing resiliency and its need in a person’s professional and personal life, DLA Aviation Commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Allan Day arranged for a series of lunchtime speakers during the conference.

Retired Army Capt. Santiago “Angel” Rodriguez was the Day 2 lunchtime speaker at the conference.  He spoke about his numerous military deployments as the commander of the 242nd Mountain Special Forces Team, 10th Group Special Operations Command; multiple injuries he sustained; and how practicing some of the resiliency techniques that resiliency trainer, Air Force Master Sgt. Shanon Johnson offered at the SLC covered earlier enabled him work at DLA.  (See related story: Resiliency toolkit explored during Senior Leader Conference)

Rodriguez first learned about DLA through Operation Warfighter, a Department of Defense internship program that matches qualified wounded, ill and injured service members with non-funded federal internships in order for them to gain valuable work experience during their recovery and rehabilitation. 

After gaining experience, through the internship program, Rodriguez applied for a position DLA Aviation’s Army Customer Facing Division and currently works there as a customer account specialist.

Rodriguez shared with the audience that throughout his career he had a mentality that “I’m an officer, a commander, I can’t break.”

“I was hard headed, in and out of hospitals, and kept returning to service and deployment,” he said,  sharing that at that time he was allowed to carry his medical records with him. “I wasn’t thinking of my family after I got hurt and almost lost them by continuing to deploy.”

He said during his last Iraq deployment a truck bomb killed six members of his team and that his mother, who was a deployed nurse, was one of the first responders to treat him, performing CPR to keep him alive. 

“I was damaged to the point where they weren’t sure I would live to make it back to the states and once I did, I couldn’t recognize my wife and children,” he said.

Rodriguez underwent months of therapy to learn to speak, walk and even drive a car again.  He suffered and still suffers from traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rodriguez shared that at one point he told his wife, it’s ok if you want a divorce, “Thank God, she said no,” he said.

Through sharing his story and the audience’s questions, Rodriguez emphasized the importance of the mental and social building blocks of resiliency.

“I was able to come back and rejoin the work environment, some of my teammates weren’t,” he said.  Rodriguez said he still suffers from his injuries, many of which aren’t visible to the naked eye, but he is able to excel at his job and that is in large part due to the DLA culture. 

Fortifying resiliency represents what DLA does to assist the workforce to become more effective in their professional and personal lives. DLA recognizes that no fixed program can meet the needs of the entire workforce and as such, built a program that is flexible and accessible to meet the needs of individual organizations, as well as individual people.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Rodriguez received a standing ovation from conference attendees and a commander’s coin from Day.

While presenting him with the coin and referring back to why DLA leaders and employees put warfighters first, Day told attendees in a voice choked up with emotion, “Here is your why.”

Later this month, Rodriguez will travel to the Pentagon and meet the rest of his old team for a private retirement ceremony of the 242th Mountain Team’s guidon.  The guidon will be retired honoring those team members who gave their lives in service of their country.  Rodriguez said he will use that time to also urge his fellow team members to once again involve themselves in society as they have withdrawn based on their wartime experiences. 

(Editor’s note:  This article is the third in a series of four on how DLA Aviation employees use the building blocks of resiliency to succeed in their professional and personal lives)