WEST BETHESDA, Md. —
Marco Robledo was 21 when an improvised explosive device changed his life on May 26, 2007. The left-handed Army combat engineer was deployed to Iraq and had just finished up his Automotive Service Excellence Mechanics Certification. The explosion took his left hand and left leg.
Now, he's finishing up his bachelor's degree and just started working in the contract management office at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division headquarters in West Bethesda, Maryland. Oh, and he has a great service dog named Chuck.
On Oct. 12, Robledo, a contract specialist, spoke about his background and time in and out of the military at an observance marking both National Hispanic Heritage Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the Melville-Taylor Auditorium.
"Our wealth comes from the people. They have a lot to offer," Robledo said.
For Robledo, disability isn't a bad thing. In fact, the only bad thing about disability is a negative mindset.
"Disability means you have to learn to do things in a different way," he said.
Everyone has experiences that allow growth, he said. "It's the experiences that brought you there that make the journey so special." h
The experiences that brought him here might be just like any other story, and he thinks they add to a diverse place.
Robledo's parents were migrant workers. They moved around a lot and eventually settled in Arkansas. He enlisted in the Arkansas National Guard at 17 to be a combat engineer. He used it as a stepping-stone. Most people in his hometown work in factories, including his parents. Marco didn't have good grades, and he didn't feel like he fit in. He thought the National Guard's six-year obligation was a good option.
"It was never really about a career. People will tell you 'I wanted to serve,' but everyone has a different reason why," he said. "I served because I wanted to go to school and better myself and see the world."
After he was evacuated from Iraq, he went through rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Medical Center and stayed busy. He continued taking college classes. He did volunteer work for Fisher House and other wounded warrior groups, including one that built specially adapted homes for severely wounded veterans. He also landed an internship at Walter Reed's prosthetic lab.
"It taught me how to manage the inventory, order things and things I was unaware of and never had the experience doing before," Robledo said. "It was a discipline that required learning. Which is great."
Originally, he wanted to work for a wounded warrior program at the Washington Navy Yard, but one of his mentors said he should apply for his current position instead.
His mentor said, "This is where you want to grow."
So he applied. It took a year and he started Sept. 5.
He feels his new job is something he can sink his teeth into. He makes electronic versions of paperwork for contract bidding.
Robledo said he likes the professional yet laid back atmosphere in his office and around the base; that the atmosphere helps with diversity.
"People are here to work, to the point where you can dress according to your own satisfaction and still commit to your job," he said.
He's also applying some of the lessons he learned in the Army to his approach at work and in life.
Attention to detail and being on time were the two biggest lessons.
"Being on time, number one hands down; you don't have to be skilled at anything," he said. "But there's no reason why you can't be on time."
Perhaps the biggest lesson was not to cut corners. In Iraq they would have snap weapons inspections. It didn't matter if they hadn't fired it in a week.
All of those things help him with his current role in the contract office. They help him work with people. Everyone, he says, communicates and learns differently for a variety of reasons. Some people learn by listening. Others learn better visually. Marco finds himself in the latter category.
Dealing with different people in his old engineer platoon helps him now work with people from different backgrounds.
"So knowing that allows me to have a more open mind because I have my way of doing things. It also allows me to work with people on a personal level in order to make sure things get accomplished," he said.
One thing that definitely helps Robledo is his service dog, Chuck, a Belgian malinois.
Robledo received Chuck (aka Chuck Diesel) from the Troops First Foundation. Chuck is 5 years old and goes everywhere with Robledo. His original name was just "Chuck," but Robledo added "Diesel" to his name.
The service dogs are given out on a case-by-case basis, Robledo said. They have to know the wounded warrior will treat the dog properly and there must be a need for the dog.
For Robledo, Chuck is there to do simple things like open doors for him.
"He'll run up on the button and push it," Robledo said.
On his own time, Marco taught Chuck how to open and close doors at home behind him. Chuck used to be able to bring him things, like his wallet, but he does what dogs do and starts playing with a ball.
"He's still a dog. He's a good boy," Robledo said.