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NEWS | Oct. 20, 2023

Profiles in Professionalism: PS1 Santiago Guerrero

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyra M. Watson

“I grabbed onto the mirror and held on for dear life. Eventually my arm gave out and I fell off because he was driving so fast. He ran over my leg, sped off, and left me in the middle of the street.”

In January of 2021, shortly after reporting to Commander Navy Reserve Forces Command (CNRFC), Personnel Specialist 1st Class Santiago Guerrero was struck by a car and dragged for two city blocks during a hit-and-run, in what was almost a fatal incident.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, on what Guerrero thought to be a regular weeknight for him and his family, he entered the parking lot after dropping his daughter off at ballet rehearsal to find an individual attempting to flee from a hit-and-run on his car.

“I see this car that had hit my car, and he was trying to take off,” said Guerrero. “Silly me, I tried to be Superman and got in front of the car to try and stop him, but he didn’t stop. I jumped over to the side and held onto his mirror and he dragged me for two blocks.”

After his body finally gave up and he eventually let go of the mirror, Guerrero dropped to the ground, and the driver ran over his right leg before speeding off.

“When I hit the floor, everything went foggy,” said Guerrero. “I lost consciousness. When I woke up in the middle of the street, I couldn’t move. I heard the ambulance sirens approaching, voices, and steps of people coming to my rescue that picked me up and dragged me to the sidewalk.”

Guerrero was quickly loaded into an ambulance and rushed to Sentara Hospital.

The accident left the tendons of his right ankle mangled and damaged. His right hand was broken, the skin and muscle on his left leg was scraped down to the bone, and he suffered a severe concussion.

“After that night the pain was always present. I was unable to balance myself on my right foot, —creating a permanent limp in my walk,” said Guerrero.

His corporeal circumstances following the accident left him unfit to perform simple tasks at work and at home.

Guerrero fought every single day to get his mobility and body back to its fighting shape.

Following extensive physical therapy, he was told that there was no further action the therapists could take to heal his ankle more than they already had.

Guerrero was left to pick up the broken pieces of his body and his career, and weave them back together on his own.

“I knew the doctors said that there were a lot of physical limitations I would have following the accident, but I gave myself the last word,” said Guerrero. “I would be the captain of my fate. It wasn’t time for me to give up on myself or my career.”

Seemingly doomed with the ominous sentence given to him by doctors and therapists, Guerrero wore resilience as a cape, pushing his body to its limit to maintain mission readiness and get back to doing the things he loved most.

“When I was growing up, if I was stressed, if I was sad, if I was happy, or angry --whatever circumstance I was going through and trying to figure things out --the best and only way I knew how was by running,” said Guerrero. “For me, running was everything, and the accident took that away from me.”

For almost two years, Guerrero implemented exercises and stretches, and studied incessantly, all the different ways to improve mobility and build back the strength in his ankle. The accident had become an unexpected storm ripping its way through his life, blowing through everything he knew and depriving him of the small joys he hadn’t even realized he held so dear.

“The worst part of the incident was that I was unable to enjoy physical activities with my kids that I’ve always enjoyed and oftentimes took for granted,” said Guerrero.

Besides being a devoted Sailor, Guerrero is a family-man. He is a husband and father, born and raised in Ecuador, who moved to West Palm Beach, Florida in 1999 for his chance to firmly grasp the American dream in his hands.

Organically embedded into a legacy of service, Guerrero grew up watching his uncles and two older brothers serve in the military and law enforcement. He ended up joining the Navy Reserves as a full-time support Sailor and graduated from Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois at 36 years old.

“The U.S. Navy serves and protects America,” said Guerrero. “I got the opportunity to be a part of a team that serves our country and supports our constitution, and I feel proud and accomplished to be a part of it.”

Guerrero supports the Navy Reserve mission at CNRFC working out of the N7 department where he bears the responsibility of managing the Military Training and Education requirements for Sailors. His efforts directly align with Vice Adm. John Mustin, Chief of Navy Reserve and Commander, Navy Reserve Force’s Fighting Instructions, which calls on Reserve Sailors to focus their efforts on consistent warfighting readiness.

Earlier this year, Rear Admiral Mike Steffen Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command, Deputy Commander, Navy Reserve Force held an all-hands call in the auditorium of CNRFC where he put out that any Sailor that beat his scores for the next physical readiness test (PRT) would be rewarded with his parking spot for a week and lunch on him.

The admiral’s challenge was the fuel Guerrero had been looking for to fight back against the diagnosis from the physical therapists and the criminal that had taken so much from him.

“I was encouraged by that,” said Guerrero. “Seeing how Admiral Steffen prompted us to do our best inspired me. I think at that moment, that was exactly what I needed to recover and really give this rehabilitation process my best.”

The rest of Guerrero’s road to recovery was hard-fought to say the least, but not one he would abandon. He showed up for himself daily with a brave face, striking blows in the face of doubt and failure.

“The way I see it, you always have two options,” he said. “One is to keep pressing on, and the other is to just give up. I keep that in the back of my mind whether I’m dealing with issues from family and friends, work, an injury, promotions. Whatever it is, we always have those options, and I’m never choosing the second option for myself.”

Guerrero’s tenacity paid off. He conquered Rear Admiral Steffen’s challenge and achieved the highest PRT score of his career, snatching back all the joy that the violent incident took from his life.

“Every day we have the opportunity to make things better for ourselves and those around us,” said Guerrero. “The time we are on earth is short, and we owe it to ourselves to make every day count. We are merely a raindrop in the storm.”