Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs
FORT BLISS, Texas — Like all the athletes competing in the Army Trials, here, U.S. Army Capt. Rolando Reyes’ road was not an easy one. However, Reyes’ road is a little different because of how it began.
Raised by his grandmother in El Salvador during the country’s violent civil war, Reyes grew up with no electricity, running water or the opportunity to go to school due to the conflict.
When Reyes was 12 years old, his grandmother expressed concerns for his safety. Reyes said, “During my childhood, we watched many of my uncles forced to fight in the El Salvadoran civil war; we never knew what happened to them.
He continued, “And if you were 12 or 13 years old, you were fighting in the war either with the El Salvador Army or with the rebels.”
Reyes was able to leave El Salvador around the age of 13 and traveled to the U.S. He was later adopted by a family friend residing in Mount Kisco, New York.
Coming to America
Reyes found his new life in the U.S. extremely overwhelming, and only speaking Spanish didn’t make it easier. There were no bilingual classes available to him to learn English, but an introduction to sports at age 14 gave Reyes something to help get his mind off things and get away.
“As a kid I had to grow up really fast, and I found sports as a way out,” said Reyes. “My family gave me so much, to include introducing me to sports. They have been truly a blessing to me.”
Going into the Army
Using sports as an escape allowed Reyes to make the varsity soccer team his freshman year in high school. He continued to play soccer into college, until his junior year, when he joined the U.S. Army.
“The U.S. gave me a second chance at life, so I wanted to serve,” explained Reyes.
With plans to serve in the U.S. Army for three years, Reyes didn’t know the Army would soon evolve into a new era called the “War on Terrorism.”
“I was in the field at basic training when I first heard about the September 11 attacks,” said Reyes. “I will never forget my drill sergeants explaining how things were going to be a lot different.”
Deploying for the first time in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Reyes told himself if he made it out of Iraq alive, he was going to get out and focus on finishing his undergraduate degree.
With the possibility of being recalled to active duty, Reyes was able to enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, to finish his last year of college. He then commissioned as a transportation officer.
After four combat deployments, and a total of 16 years of active duty service, Reyes is now assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center’s Warrior Transition Unit, on a journey toward recovery and transition that only wounded warriors and veterans know.
At Warrior Transition Unit
Reyes has sustained four injuries to his ankle, both shoulders, both knees and his lower back. He discovered he suffers from post-traumatic stress, sleep apnea and migraines.
Reyes is the only Soldier competing in the Warrior Care and Transition Army Trials from Hawaii this year. As a new competitor, fully embracing the experience, Reyes is competing in adaptive cycling, shooting, track, field, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.
Recently, during the first medal ceremony of the competition, Reyes was surprised to find that he won bronze in cycling for the upright male 30K-open category.
“Since this is my first time to compete in cycling, I didn’t think I would place, but I am glad I had the courage to try because I found cycling as a way for me to clear my mind,” said Reyes.
“There is a lot of stress for the Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers due to the uncertainties about your future,” he added, “but the Warrior Transition Battalion has many opportunities. If you’re found fit to return to duty, going through a medical separation or medical retirement, there are many resources to help you and your family.”
Winning two gold medals in shooting at the Air Force Trials last month, Reyes qualified to be here this week at Fort Bliss to compete for a spot on Team Army for the DoD Warrior Games this June in Chicago.
The opportunity to train with expert coaches at Army Trials has inspired Reyes to become more involved in adaptive sports programs.