When Staff Sgt. Robert Fierro collapsed on the ground, he thought he took cover in time. But the damage was already done.
Fierro, who at the time was in 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was supposed to be training Iraqi soldiers during his deployment. However, it quickly became a combat situation when one of the trainees opened fire with live rounds on Jan. 15, 2011.
Before Fierro dove for cover, he had taken a bullet to the head.
“I was knocked unconscious, I believe, but I’ve heard different soldiers say I then got up and they had to escort me because I didn’t want anyone to carry me,” Fierro said. “(The shooter) killed my best friend.”
Before he realized what happened, Fierro became combative and wanted to help his fellow soldiers.
With blood gushing from his skull, doctors put him in a medically induced coma and transported him from Mosul, Iraq, to Balad to clean his wounds and take off part of his skull.
A place to call home
Fierro medically retired last month. He and his wife, Lisa, wondered what they would do, where they would stay and how they’d take care of their family.
That’s when they got a surprise that would change their lives.
While attending a George Strait concert in January, the couple was invited on stage, where the country star presented them the keys to a mortgage-free home.
Strait is partnering with the Military Warriors Support Foundation for his final concert tour by awarding homes to wounded warriors during every stop on his tour.
“A lot of organizations build the homes from the ground up for warriors. ... He doesn’t need that and we didn’t want to take that away from someone who needs (it),” Lisa Fierro said. “This organization takes repossessed homes and refurbishes them for warriors who don’t need that many (modifications). We thought this would be better for us.”
Without the stress of house payments, the Fierros said they’re looking forward to getting out of debt and planning for their children’s future.
“It just takes such a burden off our shoulders as far as the unknown,” Lisa Fierro said. “We’re used to a certain lifestyle. It was a modest lifestyle, but we’re used to that and we wanted to give our kids the best.”
The couple handed the keys to the home they were renting in Harker Heights over to their landlord last week and spent Tuesday unpacking boxes in their new three-bedroom home.
“It’s perfect for us,” Lisa Fierro said. “He fought, and his friends and our friends, they fight for the American dream; to keep it alive and the day they handed us the key, it was like, here’s our slice.”
However, it was a slice that came at a high price.
After a short stay in Germany after his injury, Robert Fierro was finally reunited with his wife and two children at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md..
“It seems like a whole bunch of time, but it was actually a couple of days before we could meet him before they could get him out of Iraq,” said his wife.
When she walked into his hospital room, Robert Fierro opened his eyes for the first time since his stay. And a month later, he finally woke up from his coma.
He stayed at Walter Reed for 20 months.
And although Lisa Fierro rented a hotel room near the hospital while he recovered, the couple was still renting a home in Harker Heights, where their two boys lived with their grandpa and gained a sense of normalcy as their dad’s wounds healed.
“It does get very expensive,” Lisa Fierro said. “I don’t think we could be as successful as a family or as a couple without all those nonprofits who helped us out.”
During his stay at Walter Reed, Robert Fierro had a craniotomy, a surgical operation in which a bone flap is removed from the skull to access the brain. When the swelling in his brain was quelled, doctors inserted a titanium skull on the right side of his brain.
Although he still had scars on the side of his head, Robert Fierro returned to Fort Hood expecting to jump back into his old Army life — training and deploying. But after being diagnosed with severe traumatic brain injury and seizures, he knew his fate.
“I joke now that I would join the National Guard or somewhere, but since I’ve been discharged I can’t join any organization as far as military,” he said. “I would have changed (military occupational specialties) or jobs so that I could stay in but for the severe TBI, I wasn’t allowed to do that. They said I wouldn’t be able to handle multitasking, which I feel that I can, so it was difficult to be told that I can’t stay in.”
Although he was happy to have support from Army leadership, he said being in the Warrior Transition Brigade was also “demoralizing,” because he saw many who “shouldn’t be there” and were “just playing the system.”
“It was hard to see your soldier fight every single day to get better to stay in and then there’s these guys who don’t even have a deployment patch and they’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get out,’” Lisa Fierro said. “They haven’t done anything. That’s hard.”
Robert Fierro, who officially retired March 28 during a ceremony at Fort Hood, said he plans to get a degree in kinesiology and inspire soldiers who, like him, bear the scars of war.
“I would like to be a physical therapist to help other soldiers because I’ve been through it so I can let them know from my experience,” he said.