Derek Herrera (’15), one of three Anderson students to be awarded the 2014 John Wooden Global Leadership fellowship last week, was, until last Friday, an active-duty Marine captain. Over the weekend, Herrera was awarded the Bronze Star, a medal earned through acts of bravery performed while fighting an enemy of the United States. The ceremony took place at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County and marked Herrera’s retirement from the military after eight years of service.
In 2012 in Afghanistan, Herrera was shot in the spine by a sniper and it left him paralyzed from the chest down. Part of Herrera’s rehabilitation included his adoption of the ReWalk robotic exoskeleton, an invention that enables paralyzed people to walk. Herrera was the first person in the U.S. to purchase a ReWalk for personal use outside the offices of a physical therapist — a use only recently approved by the FDA.
Herrera is currently the CEO of RuckPack® Inc., a company that provides healthy caffeine-free alternatives to energy drinks. The drinks were tested on active duty Marines who were tired of swallowing handfuls of vitamin supplements to maintain proper nutrition under physically demanding circumstances. Herrera is championing veterans as he grows the brand, seeking to hire fellow servicemen and women.
NBC news covered the ceremony at Camp Pendleton, where Herrera walked down the tarmac to receive his medal. Brian Williams reported: “He wanted to leave the corps the way he joined the corps: standing up.”