Erasmo Valles has been serving his country for nearly 20 years, since he joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. While he’s the first to tell you his career path hasn’t been what he expected, it has taught him first-hand about sacrifice, commitment, and adaptability. The Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy is proud to welcome Erasmo Valles as the new face of Operation Warfighter
in San Antonio.
From Enlistment to Injury
Erasmo Valles joined the Marine Corps out of high school in 1993. After his first tour in infantry, he went to college for a bachelor’s in criminal justice, but he knew he was a Marine for life. “I only lasted six months before I was knocking on the Marines’ door again,” he said.
Valles was accepted to Officer Candidate School, received his commission, and returned to active duty as an infantry officer in summer 2001, stationed with the 2nd Battallion 7th Marines in Twentynine Palms, California.
On March 31, 2004, while deployed in Iraq, Valles was out on a night patrol when his Humvee hit an anti-tank IED that exploded under the right front tire. The other riders were thrown from the vehicle, but because he was sitting in the passenger seat, the explosion shoved the engine block into Valles’ lap, crushing his feet and legs.
“The Marines saved my life that night,” Valles said. “I looked at them as my kids, but those men took care of business and saved my life. I thought I would die, but I was blessed to have them there and I owe them a debt of gratitude.”
The Journey through Recovery
Thanks to the quick response of his corpsmen, Valles was on the operating table in Balad within an hour of the explosion. A few weeks later, he arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where his wife was waiting in the lobby to introduce him to his second child, only six weeks old.
Together, they faced months of surgeries, infections, and hospital transfers in a valiant effort to save his legs. Eventually, it took 11 months, 22 surgeries, and the amputation of his left leg before Valles was finally able to start rehab at Walter Reed in February 2005.
There he received his first prosthetic limb, and Valles learned to walk again alongside his one-year-old son. “I would try to pass him, and he would try to pass me, and that helped us both do better, “ he said.
Retirement & Career Transitions
Valles received a medical retirement from the Marine Corps in 2006 and moved his family to San Antonio, to be close to relatives and the excellent medical resources for amputees.
“I retired without a clue as to what to do,” Valles said, “When I got out, there was not a lot of direction. I spent four years trying to figure out my next step.”
But as he did so, Valles had the foresight to make the most of available programs and support. He participated in VA vocational rehab and went back to school for a master’s degree in educational administration.
While he did not have the opportunity to participate in an Operation Warfighter internship while on active duty, Valles did discover the benefits of an internship after he retired. Through the House of Representatives Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program, he became the veterans’ liaison for his local congressional district, an internship that turned into a job and helped him realize he wanted a career helping people, especially working with veterans or kids.
In January 2011, Valles found that chance as he began work as a Recovery Care Coordinator at Walter Reed and Bethesda. Recovery Care Coordinators help wounded warriors and their families define new goals that are in keeping with their altered circumstances, and work with them to develop a comprehensive transition plan that lays out the steps to take to reach those goals. The Care Coordinator also connects the Service member and family with the resources they will need to complete each step. Counseling warriors and families through the recovery process was a perfect fit for Valles’ background and experience.
“It was a great chance to come full circle and apply my knowledge of what we went through to help other people,” he said.
A New Challenge: Operation Warfighter
Valles will now make another exciting transition, as he accepts the position of Regional Coordinator for Operation Warfighter in San Antonio. It’s an opportunity to help other Service members who have experienced injury, recovery, and career transition to discover new possibilities for themselves through meaningful internships.
Operation Warfighter has been operating successfully at Brooke Army Medical Center since 2009, thanks to the efforts of Staff Sgt. Zackery Gant, who spearheaded the program while continuing to perform his regular duties as the battalion medical non-commissioned officer.
Valles joins as the first full-time, dedicated Operation Warfighter coordinator outside of the National Capital Region. He will be able to expand the program and make it available to more wounded, ill and injured Service members assigned to Service wounded warrior programs at Fort Sam Houston, Lackland Air Force Base, and the greater San Antonio area.
Valles said he is grateful that this program exists to help wounded, ill and injured Service members, whether they are transitioning out of the military or returning to duty.
“I loved being a Marine infantry officer, and I thought that was my life path,” he said. “But the reality of life is that it doesn’t work out the way you planned, and I wouldn’t change any of it.”
In his new work with Operation Warfighter, Valles hopes he can help other wounded, ill and injured Service members find the silver lining as they are recover and adjust to their new normal.
“Transition is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Everything you learned up to this point doesn’t just go away. Your expertise, your discipline, your training – all of that is very valuable,” he said. “You find what you like and you use what you know, and you can find a job and have a great career. Operation Warfighter is about getting people married up to good agencies and then letting them shine.”
For more information on Operation Warfighter internship opportunities, contact WarriorCare@osd.mi.