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Faith and Army Gives Soldier Second Chance
by U.S. Army MaryTherese Griffin, Warrior Care and Transition
March 20, 2019

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor in November 2015, U.S. Army Sgt. Dalton Apodaca remembered his pastor telling him, “God will open a door for you when it is time, but stay strong because hell is the hallway.” At the time, Apodaca was not sure what it meant and was not very happy with it as he was looking forward to his next airborne jump, his first in just over a month, but that jump would never happen. “Little did I know that would have been my last jump in the 82nd Airborne Division.” After 13 jumps, his airborne career was over.

“I was told that I had a nine centimeter brain tumor that was 1/3 the size of my brain,” Apodaca said. The Colorado native was transferred to the hospital at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill Hospital to undergo more tests after which he was diagnosed with a grade two oligodendroglia brain tumor that to this day doctors still can’t explain why it developed.

Left - U.S. Army Sgt. Dalton Apodaca gives the thumbs up while on his way to the hospital at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill on November 20, 2015. He says his faith in God and his Army gave him a second chance after he received treatment for a 9 cm brain tumor. Right - U.S. Army Sgt. Dalton Apodaca conquered bike trails in Cheyenne Canyon, Colorado in April 2016 after beating his brain tumor. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from courtesy photos by U.S. Army SGT Dalton Apodaca)

Once released from the hospital, his chain of command sent him to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on December 8, 2015. He used his time at the WTU to come up with a treatment plan that included radiation and chemotherapy, but he knew he couldn’t do it alone. A family friend told him there was a WTU at Fort Carson, Colorado, much closer to home, and Apodaca was able to transfer to there on February 2, 2016.

Apodaca received a myriad of support from family, like his mother Lisa and his grandmother, to everyone in the WTU. He also credits his Nurse Case Manager, Linda Plasters-Jennings, for always being so helpful and willing to take care of him like her own child.

“Sgt. Apodaca is a stand-out among the many amazing Soldiers I have served in WTU”, said Plasters-Jennings. “From the beginning of or our work together, he voiced a strong intention to [return to duty] and he never deviated from that even when he was told that the medical board would evaluate him for a determination of fitness to serve.”

He was found fit to serve and now three years later, Apodaca is feeling victorious at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington as he awaits his next assignment in Hawaii. It’s also a victorious time for those who supported his quest, like Plasters-Jennings.

“I am delighted to see Sgt. Apodaca’s progress. I follow him on Facebook plus he, his mom and sister stopped by to visit when he was back in Colorado on leave,” Plasters-Jennings said. “I believe he will be a success in his personal and professional life as he has demonstrated the ability to face challenges head on and how to use the resources and abilities at hand to deal with barriers, moving over, around or through as suits the situation. He is a proud American and it shows.”

Apodaca overcame the odds with his brain tumor and thanks God for making it all possible. “I can’t thank God enough allowing me to return to duty and continue living my dream. I don’t take anything for granted anymore and I live life to the fullest.”

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