Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert (left), chief of naval operations, and Lance B. Boxer, chairman of the board for the USO, congratulate U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Guillermo Tejada on Guillermo's receipt of the George Van Cleave Leadership Award at the United Servicemen's Organization Gala here Dec. 13, 2012. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Aquita Brown)
NEW YORK (12/17/2012) – U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Guillermo Tejada received the George Van Cleave Award at the 51st United Servicemen's Organization Gala held here December 13. This annual award recognizes one enlisted member of each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces for extraordinary leadership.
“Like any other award that I have received, I always believe that it is not for my merits, but for the Marines I have led,” said Tejada, who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device blast while on a dismounted patrol in Afghanistan in 2010. Since that time, he has been recovering from his wounds and actively serving as a community volunteer and motivational guest speaker.
According to Ray Kennedy, Vice President of Programs and Services for the USO, Tejada was selected to receive the Van Cleave Award out of a field of highly qualified Marines who were nominated by commands around the globe.
“George Van Cleave created this award to recognize the achievements of enlisted service members who may otherwise be overlooked for their leadership and meritorious service because of their junior rank,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Perry, who received the award for the U.S. Navy alongside Tejada. A mass communications specialist, Perry was recognized for his work with S.E.A.L Team One in Iraq.
The 2011 Marine Corps recipient of the Van Cleave Award was Sgt. Dakota Meyer.
“It's not often that you get to be the regimental commander for a Marine of [Tejada's] character not once, but twice,” said Col. Willy Buhl, Wounded Warrior Regiment commanding officer, who was on hand to congratulate Tejada at the ceremony in New York.
Buhl previously served as Tejada's regimental commander at 5th Marine Regiment, where Tejada was assigned as a platoon sergeant with the regiment's 3rd Battalion from 2008 to 2011. Buhl clearly remembers the day that Tejada was wounded in Afghanistan in November 2010.
“As [Tejada] was being carried to the helicopter on the battlefield, he was still giving orders and directions to his platoon; and that was after he lost his legs,” said Buhl.
Buhl visited Tejada in the hospital a few weeks after his injury, when Tejada was an inpatient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“As soon as he was able to get out of his bed in Bethesda, he was in a wheelchair making his way around the ward to check up on the other wounded [Marines],” said Buhl. “He gave consolation and reassurance to both the Marines and their families. Bottom line is, the man always thinks of others before himself. He is always engaged, leading and inspiring. Regardless of whether he's on a combat patrol or making his way around the hospital, he's always looking out for other Marines.”
Buhl continued to keep up with Tejada and his family throughout Tejada's recovery. They crossed paths at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., in May 2012, where Tejada beat out the competition to take the silver medal for the Marine Corps in air pistol marksmanship.
In November 2012, nearly two years to the day from the time of Tejada's injury, Buhl reconnected with Tejada and his family when Buhl conducted a site visit at the Wounded Warrior Battalion East detachment at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, where Tejada is currently based.
“At the Marine Corps birthday ball in San Antonio, [Tejada] was out on the dance floor on his new prosthetic legs with his wife, dancing; I mean, he was dancing with his wife for the first time since the injury. It was one of the most inspiring things I've ever witnessed,” said Buhl. “It's rare that he smiles; Staff Sergeant Tejada usually gives you the warrior face. But just seeing him and his wife out there celebrating the Marine Corps birthday was inspiring for me personally.”
More than 50 Marines, most with severe combat-related injuries, are currently going through recovery and transition at the WWBn-E detachment at the joint medical center in San Antonio, which is staffed by all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“SAMMC is a great place for recovery,” said Tejada. “The facility is awesome and the staff are really good at what they do.”
While in San Antonio, Tejada has been actively involved as a mentor with the Young Marines Program and he, his wife and three children have recently volunteered in local Toys for Tots events.
“I believe it's important to mentor and give back to today's youth,” said Tejada. “This way we can ensure a good future for everyone. I'm a firm believer that you always get back the same amount the you put into anything in life.”
Over the course of the past year, Tejada has reached outside the local area to pass on his lessons learned through recovery to other service members and veterans. He volunteered to serve as a motivational guest speaker for thousands of attendees at the Semper Fi Bowl Dinner, the American Friends of our Armed Forces Rally, and other armed forces-related events.
"He is always positive; he never complains or asks for help. He never makes excuses. I've seen him motivate others who are injured to a lesser extent,” said Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos, who is recovering alongside Tejada at SAMMC.
Gallegos lost his right arm to an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in October 2010, and stated that Tejada has been a constant motivating force in his life over that past two years, inspiring him to pursue a bachelor's degree and participate in a grueling 13-mile “Spartan Beast” adventure race.
Tejada earned a silver medal in air pistol marksmanship for the Marine Corps in May at the annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., where wounded, ill and injured Marines face off against other United States service members. The Marine Corps team took the coveted Chairman's Cup for the third year in a row.
In addition, Tejada has competed in the hand cycle category at the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon, as well as the Los Angeles and San Diego Marathons.
"Staff Sgt. Tejeda's daily perseverance and determination are a daily reminder of his strength,” said Sgt. Nickolas Glidden, who has served on the WWBn-E staff at SAMMC since October 2011. “He inspires me to always remember that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, no matter how bad things get. I recently witnessed [Tejada] finish an entire triathlon by himself. He is an inspiration to all athletes everywhere,”
According to Lt. Col. Nicholas Davis, the WWBn-E commanding officer, Tejada's mentorship and example have inspired hundreds of his fellow wounded warriors at Walter Reed and San Antonio.
“His can-do attitude and willingness to tackle any challenge motivates other Wounded Warriors and battalion staff members on a daily basis,” said Davis.
General James F. Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, met Tejada at Bethesda in shortly 2010, shortly after Tejada was stabilized and made the transatlantic flight from the U.S. Army Hospital in Landstuhl.
“Staff Sergeant Tejada represents the very best qualities of what it means to be a Marine,” said Amos. “By word and deed, he exemplifies the best of our core values and personally contributed to our rich legacy of valor. He is a living example of selfless service, dedication, and sheer determination.”
Amos stated that of all the leaders in the Marine Corps who are deserving of recognition for their outstanding leadership, Tejada has distinguished himself as a leader both on and off the battlefield.
“I was deeply moved when I learned of his actions on the battlefield, and in recovery after he was injured,” said Amos. “He never stopped leading Marines; whether they were in Afghanistan with 3/5 or in the wards of the hospital. There's a saying among people who have been dealt severe injuries that you either get busy living, or you get busy dying. SSgt Tejada has clearly got busy living. He faced adversity, overcame his injuries, and has shown others that they too can heal and live meaningful, productive lives.”
Tejada enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1999 at the age of 18, and has served in the infantry with the First Marine Division for most of his career. He also completed a successful tour on recruiting duty in Phoenix, Arizona. His military awards include the Bronze Star, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the Purple Heart.
Looking to the future, Tejada is weighing his options between remaining in the Marine Corps as an armorer, or transitioning to civilian life and pursuing a career with a federal law enforcement agency.
When asked if he had one piece of advice to offer to other service members struggling with recovery, Tejada stated, “Don't think about what you can't do. Concentrate on the many things that
you still can do, and do them to the best of your ability for the ones who no longer can. Above all, live a life of honor.”
Courtesy of Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment
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