As a United States Marine, he was awarded the Bronze Star with V, Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. He conducted humanitarian assistance in Haiti and trained in several locations in the Middle East. Active-duty Marine Special Operations Officer Captain Derek Herrera (’15) is also CEO of an 80% military service member–owned business while finishing up his degree in UCLA Anderson’s Executive MBA program. Now, he is one of three students to receive the prestigious John Wooden Global Leadership fellowship.
You might know him best as ABC TV’s Person of the Week, honored by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart and Louis CK. Because in addition to his service, which began with his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006, Captain Herrera is the first person in the country to purchase a personal ReWalk robotic exoskeleton — the invention that allows paraplegic people to walk, despite paralysis.
Herrera was shot by a sniper in 2012 while leading a team in combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The blow to his spine left him paralyzed below the chest. Six-foot-two and athletic, Herrera rehabilitated relatively quickly and was able to return to work as Battalion Future Operations Officer at Camp Pendleton, Calif., within half a year.
With or without this revolutionary technology, Herrera is literally moving forward in multiple creative ways. He has trained as a para-triathlete and recently completed the Long Beach Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. He serves on the boards of the American Technion Society Western Region, RedStone Veterans’ Service Initiative and the Paralyzed Veterans of America Research Foundation.
At the moment, he’s most excited to be working as the CEO of RuckPack® Inc., a company that provides healthy caffeine-free alternatives to energy drinks. With the catchy tag line “Combat Nutrition,” it was founded by Herrera’s friend Rob Dyer and tested on active duty Marines who were tired of swallowing handfuls of vitamin supplements to maintain proper nutrition under physically demanding circumstances.
Herrera says that RuckPack “has become my latest passion.” It’s especially important to him that the brand be steered by fellow service members, and he puts his money where his mouth is, writing on his blog: “I am looking to hire veterans because I really believe in the values and intangible qualities that veterans can bring to the business environment.”
We call that a commitment to sharing success.
Herrera’s Anderson experience plays a central role in this phase of his enterprising life. Spending a week as a teaching assistant in the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans at UCLA, he helped teach veterans basic skills to start and run their own businesses. “I found the course to be particularly useful because it focused on the lowest-level tactical operations of entrepreneurship,” he says. “It is easy to delve into the nuances of large businesses, and we often discuss large organizations like Facebook and Amazon, but it is important to remember that there are thousands of people out there working hard to operate a successful small business. I can’t say enough good things about this program.”
Coach John Wooden, for whom the fellowship Herrera earned is named, admonished those around him to “Learn today as though you were to live forever; live today as though you were to die tomorrow.” If anyone understands this credo, it’s an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who has been deployed to — and survived — a war zone.
UCLA Anderson salutes and thanks Captain Herrera and other active duty military personnel and veterans who have contributed their talents, enduring spirit and enterprising ideas to the MBA program, truly enhancing its worth in the business sector worldwide.