FORT BLISS, Texas -- As he sits at the desk in his office, the light from the window forms a halo around Carlos Escobar, an advocate with the Army Wounded Warrior Program, also known as AW2. Scars creep from under his sleeves down his arms, just a hint of the man's past.
His sincere smile and caring eyes welcome the Soldier visiting his office. While there is plenty of business to be handled, Escobar's first priority is that Soldier. He takes a personalized approach to his job. He figures out, like a detective, all the things that can help a wounded Soldier transform into a successful civilian.
The man's past is what has brought him to where he is today, on the other side of the desk he visited as a wounded Soldier.
Escobar joined the Army in 1995 as a fire direction specialist.
Carlos Escobar, an Army Wounded Warrior Program advocate, addresses Soldiers during a brief at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, Fort Bliss, Texas, April 23, 2014. As an AW2 advocate, Escobar strives to link wounded Soldiers and their families with services necessary to become successful civilians. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison, 24th Press Camp Headquarters, Fort Bliss, Texas)
While he enjoyed his job, he always sought the challenge of learning something new.
“Like everybody, I did my time, I did my training. I was always looking to expose myself to different things, learning new things in the military,” said Escobar reminiscing on his early days as a Soldier. “It started with operations, then I did administrations and force readiness.”
Multifaceted skills made Escobar an asset to his unit, and it showed with the high level of responsibility bestowed upon him during his unit's deployment to Forward Operating Base Danger in Tikrit, Iraq. He was part of the personal security detachment for the battalion commander.
During one mission, Escobar's whole life would change.
“In one of the convoys, I was in the right place at the wrong time,” explains Escobar. “An (improvised explosive device) exploded right under my Humvee on my side. I received the entire blunt of the explosion. I got compound fractures of both arms, I lost muscle tissue in my right shoulder and (suffered) a broken leg.”
He jokingly refers to the scar left on his right shoulder as his “combat patch.”
After five stops along the way, Escobar finally reached Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He went through surgery and had metal plates put in each arm. Then his long path to recovery began.
He was transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, and belonged to the medical hold unit which, at the time, was under the Mobilization and Deployment Brigade. He spent a year and a half in the unit while going through the transition from Soldier to civilian.
During this time, Escobar was enrolled into the AW2 program and introduced to his advocate who played an important role in his recovery.
“I was medically separated in April 2006,” said Escobar. “I stayed home for about two and a half months, and I guess I drove my wife crazy. She told me to go back to work. So, I went back to work in the civilian world.”
Transitioning into a civilian proved to be more difficult than Escobar had thought. He missed the discipline and the culture of the military. It didn't take long before his love for the military would draw him back.
He was offered a job working for the operations and training section at the MaD Brigade as a civilian. He took the job in December 2006 and worked there until 2010.
“To me, it was one of the greatest organizations I have worked for, especially during a time of high mobilization,” said Escobar, smiling from the fond memory. “I was heavily involved with the deployment of troops during my time. I was involved with the deployment and redeployment of about 16,000 Soldiers.”
All the while, during his time with the MaD Brigade, Escobar was constantly helping Soldier find the resources they needed. He was especially helpful for Soldiers who were injured and possibly facing a transition to civilian life.
People took notice of his efforts. Soon, word made it back to Escobar's AW2 advocate. A position for an advocate opened and in November 2010, Escobar jumped at the opportunity.
“It was something that I wanted to do because when I went through whole process all the information was scattered all over the place,” said Escobar. “There wasn't a centralized place where the Soldiers could go and get all the information needed so they could see there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The position became more than a job for Escobar, it became his passion. He does not see the Soldiers as clients, there is a bond that forms between them many times.
“We build a relationship with our population. It's more than just helping them link up with their resources, its helping them succeed,” he said. “We want to make sure our brothers and sisters have the same chances to succeed in life.”
Succeeding in life, often times, calls for more than someone pointing to the right direction. So while there are structured plans developed for each individual, Escobar will never limit one of his Soldiers to just previously scheduled meetings.
“When I was transitioning, and after transitioning, whenever I had a hard time I would get on the phone and call right away,” said retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Victor Medina, one of Escobar's clients. “Even if I had a hard time in school I would call him up and he was always there. He would call me every 180 days, but sometimes I was calling him every two days.”
Medina and Escobar's relationship has blossomed even further because recently Medina has started an internship with Escobar and the AW2 program.
Escobar will continue to help wounded Soldiers reach goals and strive for success. It is not just a job or his calling. It is his passion.
“When the Army told me I was no longer able to wear the uniform, I felt like someone had hung a rock of Kryptonite on Superman. I think most of the Soldiers feel the same way,” said Escobar. “I tell them they need to get off their butt and do something. Apply the skills you learned in the military and you will know you are still strong, you are actually stronger.”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison
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