Double Amputee Happy To Fill NCO Leader Role
(May 23, 2011)
May 18, 2011 - Sgt. 1st Class Ray Castillo lost both legs after an ambush in Iraq two years ago while on his 10th combat deployment.
FORT BENNING, GA (ANS - May 18, 2011) -- Sgt.
1st Class Ray Castillo is again flourishing as a
senior noncommissioned officer at Joint Base
Lewis-McChord, Wash., but that almost didn't
seem possible two years ago.
his 10th combat deployment with the 75th Ranger
Regiment resulted in a life-changing event on
the dusty battlefield of northern Iraq. Today,
he's a double amputee - above the knees - but
set to graduate next week from Fort Benning's
seven-week Maneuver Senior Leaders Course.
"Just because I lost my limbs doesn't mean I
can't give my experience and my knowledge to
other guys, (but) I understood eventually I was
going to be behind a desk," said Castillo, now
an operations sergeant with 2nd Battalion.
"There's nothing I could've done about that. I
still wanted to be in the military, I still
wanted to contribute."
occurred Feb. 9, 2009, near Mosul. Castillo was
a platoon sergeant with the regiment's 2nd
Battalion with the unit in pursuit of a
high-value target. The Soldiers had dismounted
and were approaching the objective on foot when
they got ambushed.
improvised explosive device hit Castillo.
"It was real quick," he recalled. "(The
enemy) hid it really well in the ground. I got
to that location, and it just went off. I
blacked out for a short period of time, but I
remember the explosion going off and flying
through the air."
Covered in blood, Castillo went into shock. A platoon medic
treated him at the scene and he got evacuated within a
half-hour. On the ride to the hospital, he slipped in and
out of consciousness.
"I was in so much pain," he
said. "I told my medic, 'Hey, you need to give me something.
I don't care if you punch me in the face or whatever, but
I'm in so much pain.'"
Castillo had multiple
lacerations, including to his liver, spleen, intestines and
right kidney. A lung was punctured in three different areas.
After the blast, when he was dragged to a stretcher,
Castillo remembered looking down and seeing his right leg
severed at the ankle. He figured he might lose part of one
leg, but woke up from an induced coma about a month later at
Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to find
both gone. The infections had spread too quickly, doctors
"I wasn't expecting to see 70 percent of my
legs gone," he said. "Because of the infection, they had to
keep cutting off more and more and more, because of all that
bad stuff they have in the dirt over in Iraq."
undergone dozens of procedures, and not just to the legs.
Doctors also removed shrapnel from his abdomen area.
"I lost count (of the surgeries). I had so many, I was sick
of surgery," he said. "I still have a lot of shrapnel in me.
Every once in a while, I'll get a scratch here or there
'cause it's trying to come out. It's all over the place."
There's a little ball of metal floating around a finger
in his left hand. Castillo said X-rays at the dentist reveal
more pieces in his head.
Castillo spent almost two
months at Walter Reed and actually re-enlisted there in
March 2009 from a hospital bed, surrounded by most of his
family. He'd planned to do that in Iraq before getting
"I would say it's more frustrating than
difficult," he said of his lengthy recovery. "There's a lot
of frustration that goes with having some type of new life.
Everyone has a goal in life, and then when something
happens, it can change."
"You can still stay on
certain career paths and other paths you want to do in your
life," he explained. "It can be difficult doing those
things, but it's more frustrating. There are simple things
that you have to try to overcome and adapt to."
being transferred to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for rehab,
Castillo said he encountered other Soldiers in worse
"Looking at them being able to do
certain things, it gives you strength," he said. "I remember
seeing a woman in San Antonio - she had both arms gone. She
was an (explosive ordnance disposal) Soldier missing both
arms up high. The wounds were so high up her shoulders that
she couldn't have a prosthetic arm."
like that reminds you, 'Hey, you shouldn't be complaining
about certain things.' You don't want to have someone always
helping you out, because they're not always gonna be there,"
he said. "In Texas, they taught (me) how to do stuff on (my)
own. I had to figure a lot of things out and learn how to
overcome those little obstacles and hurdles."
Castillo was fitted with prosthetics in May 2009. That
November, his formal therapy ended and he left Fort Sam
Houston the following January. He returned to Joint Base
Lewis-McChord but had to clear a medical evaluation board
just to stay in the Army - his paperwork was approved four
"My focus was just to get back to my
unit," he said. "I worked really hard every day as much as I
could because that was my main focus - recovery and getting
better so I could get back to my unit and continue working."
Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning Command
Sgt. Maj. Chris Hardy was the 75th Ranger Regiment's command
sergeant major when Castillo got wounded in Iraq.
"His personal courage and commitment is truly an inspiration
to us all," Hardy said. "He epitomizes the warrior ethos - I
will never quit, I will never accept defeat. He symbolizes
the strength of the American Soldier and I feel privileged
to know him."
Castillo said he's driven to stay in
and wants to reach the 20-year mark in his Army career. He'd
like to become an instructor after his time with the Ranger
The sergeant first class did a tandem
jump at the Ranger Rendezvous in August 2009, only months
after the ambush, and plans to return again this year.
Calling the regiment a "brotherhood," Castillo said he knows
some of the other Rangers better than his own family, and
vice versa, after all they've experienced together in war.
The learning process also hasn't ended in his own
recovery. Just walking downstairs, along a sidewalk or
grass, and downhill can be challenging.
"Even when it
snowed in Washington state, just going through the snow and
it being slippery, I don't feel where I step until I put my
weight on it," he said. "I drive, too, and that's a learning
curve. My endurance and balance are getting much better.
Being able to do random chores around the house or just
doing stuff at work is getting better. It's gotten easier,
Article and photo by Vince Little
Army News Service
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