My name is Raul V. Gutierrez. I am from New York City, NY, just turned 47, and am a service-connected, disabled Veteran. While serving in Iraq, I became wounded and received the Purple Heart along with several other medals. As a Combat Engineer, I was regularly involved in conflict and fighting but would gladly do it all over again.
I joined the U.S. Army in October 2003. I had always wanted to join, but three reasons finally inspired me to enlist: first, in honor of my friend, Nereida Dejesus, who was killed on September 11, 2001, in the Twin Towers. This was a very sad day, not only for me but for the whole country and especially for the families of all who were lost.
The second reason was to better support my son and family. I was struggling in New York City, working three jobs to help support the oldest of my five kids. He is now 24 years old and is studying biology in college.
The final reason for enlisting was that I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything even though I was working so hard. So, I decided to join in honor of my friend, to support the country that I love so much, and for my family.
The most significant adjustment to Army life was that at 31, I was an older recruit. Many young people that I met were not as motivated as I was; I believe that I helped change their attitudes though!
I worked as a Combat Engineer, performing construction and demolition tasks under combat conditions, checking the roadways for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and assisting with the movement and support of our troops. This job was incredibly dangerous, but someone had to do it; I loved that I genuinely made a difference and kept everyone safe.
I deployed to Iraq three times; the first tour was from Jan 2005 to Feb 2006. While in the green zone (the heavily fortified governmental center) it was safe but when we traveled out to clear roads, it was a different story. During a road survey in 2005, we ran into a large IED. I received shrapnel wounds and experienced severe disorientation. Unfortunately, our Staff Sgt, Ronell Bradley, had lost both of his legs in the attack. Helping him to safety that day was a huge accomplishment, but I experienced a lot of guilt. Later that year, my company, Company E, Task Force 4-64 Armor, 4th Brigade (combat) won the Itschner award (for the best Engineer Company in the army).
[Raul Gutierrez lives with loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage; it has been my privilege to know him for over ten years. Raul was a devoted and loyal soldier who supported the leadership and his fellow soldiers. As his squad leader, I saw him put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and his fellow soldiers before his own with impeccable integrity and personal courage; Raul has and is one of the main reasons why I am still alive today. While serving together in Baghdad, Iraq, our vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device. I sustained life-threatening injuries and lost both legs and part of my right hand. Raul risked his life to save mine by getting me out of the vehicle so that I could receive medical treatment. His dedication, leadership, and motivation reflect distinct credit upon himself, the United States Army, and the United States of America. -Sergeant Ronell Bradley]
For my second tour, I was stationed at FOB Falcon outside of Baghdad from October 2007 through December 2008. Our company was mortared daily, and we often had to run for cover. I went back for a final tour to Iraq from August 2010 to July 2011 and was promoted to Staff Sergeant squad leader, managing ten soldiers and several vehicles.
I was medically discharged from the military in 2014 and moved to El Paso, TX. The transition to civilian life was stressful; I felt lost, alone, confused, and in need of a purpose. I would occasionally still get up in the morning and put my uniform on. Certain loud noises and landscapes, like the desert of El Paso, brought up strong memories and emotions of being in Iraq. Interaction with civilians was difficult since they often do not have the same sense of duty.
Re-entering the civilian workforce was a challenge; I applied for jobs everywhere, for over a year, with no results. I think my military background hurt my chances because many businesses don’t understand how to support veterans, especially those with disabilities or PTSD, nor do they bother to try. One day, my brother-in-law told me they were hiring at PRIDE Industries, where he worked.
I would often call PRIDE’s HR department and speak to AbilityOne Recruiter Cynthia Baca. She was helpful and told me that she would call with any new openings. Eventually, I got a call from HR Assistant, Hilda Loera, for an interview on the same day my wife and I had gotten the keys to our home. I couldn’t believe it, what were the chances? I went to Ft. Bliss that week and got the job.
I was hired as a General Maintenance Worker (GMW) in the Facilities West department and moved up to GMW/Estimator in the Facilities East department; March 7th, 2019 was my third anniversary! I love my job, especially getting to work with young soldiers. My army lingo slips at times, but it helps solidify my work relationships with them. Now, whenever I go to the barracks, I use military lingo and get the job done, or I’ll challenge them to push-ups. I haven’t lost a challenge yet and have the video to prove it!
Working with PRIDE has been a godsend. My disabilities from wartime service include PTSD, lower back and knee issues; resulting in chronic pain, stress-triggered headaches, short-term memory loss, and trouble focusing. I’ve met so many people with many different disabilities that I don’t feel alone, confused, or that I need to hide; I feel at home.
PRIDE is different from other companies, and with the support I receive, I am inspired to do my best. There’s nothing better than feeling comfortable in your own skin, especially at a job where you’re not looked at differently because of a disability. My supervisor understands my goals and accommodations and provides me with flexibility to attend my appointments at the VA Hospital.
I love getting up in the morning and coming to work. It helps so much to have other veterans around because we understand each other so well. I have a lovely home and family in El Paso and do not plan to go anywhere else. I would love to further my knowledge of my trade and career and move up into management with my own office so I can hang my NY Giants, NY Knicks, and NY Yankees banners on the walls (since there are too many Dallas fans around here!).
PRIDE provides meaning, for myself and other colleagues with disabilities.