A MARSOC Marine who was left paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan fulfilled a promise to himself on Friday and walked using robotic leg braces in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, where he was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor.
The crowd of 300 Marines was silent as Capt. Derek Herrera walked. All that was heard was the faint whirring of electric motors from the device.
Herrera then stood, holding onto one crutch. With his other hand, he saluted his commanding officer, who presented him the award.
In another WISTV story, Herrera talks about the day that changed his life.
"We were on the rooftop observing some suspicious activity in the valley to our north," Herrera of 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion said.
Just after sunrise on June 14, 2012, he was leading a patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
"Then all of a sudden, I felt kind of a pulsing sensation on my back," he said.
It was an ambush. A bullet from an AK-47 had lodged in his spine.
"As I was lying there, I immediately knew I had some pain, almost electrical stimulation, pulsing through my back," he said. "... In an instant, an inch one way, it would have missed me completely. An inch the other way, it would have gone straight to my heart and killed me."
Months of rehabilitation would follow, a new battle for the officer adjusting to being completely paralyzed from the chest down.
"Over time, I came to realize that of the many friends that I've had who've made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, any one of those guys would be happy to be in my position, continue to live a life," Herrera said.