Ramon Padilla Jr. was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte, Calif.
His father, Ramon, was a cabinet maker, and became a popular member of the community while serving as a Little League baseball coach.
Young Ramon excelled in baseball as a pitcher, shortstop and center fielder, earning All-Valley honors. He also was a wide receiver in football.
He married his high school sweetheart and the couple had two children. The couple divorced a few years later.
At age 22, Padilla met his current wife, Judith, and it was at that point, Ramon said, that he had to take charge of his life. Things were happening fast for him and he needed a focus.
“I was 22, though it didn’t hit me at the time, I felt I had to do my part for my country,” said Padilla.
He would go through training, and would find himself in stationed in Fort Riley, Kan. In 2002, he received orders that would send him for a tour of duty to Korea. He and his unit were stationed by the border – “The Demilitarized Zone” – that since 1953 has separated North and South Korea.
“I remember one fall day in 2002 when the guy who was driving us took a wrong turn, and we ended up 500 yards from the North Korean border,” says Padilla, with a chuckle. “That would not have been pretty.”
From one hot spot to another, Padilla’s military career sent him to Afghanistan in May 2007.
On July 8, 2007, Padilla and members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade were into their 45th of service in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, nicknamed “The Valley of Death.” Between 2007 and 2008, this was the sector in which fierce fighting erupted between anti-coalition militias (the Taliban) and U.S. Forces.
“It was the last place where anyone had seen Osama Bin Laden,” says Padilla.
He recalls the details of his fateful July evening with chilling precision.
“We were doing patrol in the range, and after dinner I left to call for my friends. No sooner had I reached a point on the rocks when a RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] blew up in front of me, severing my left arm. Shrapnel hit the right side of my head and cracked my skull.
“I knew that my arm was severed because I could see it flying with just ligaments stretched like strings back to me. I fell to the ground. Then, two brave soldiers snatched me up.”
Two soldiers, Sgt. Aaron Hijar of California, and Sgt. Daniel Richardson of Florida came to Padilla’s rescue and were able to carry him to a safe house.
Another soldier – who was not a medic - stopped the bleeding on Padilla’s wounds. That “angel” was Sgt. Raul Padilla, no relation to Ramon.
“He saved my life,” said Ramon.
Padilla was evacuated to a base medical facility in Kandahar, and once he awakened he found himself a day later at a military medical center in Landstuhl, Germany. Padilla spent five days in Germany, and on July 12, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, where he entered Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington, D.C.
“What I have found is that the recreational therapists, nurses and doctors became great friends to me,” says Ramon. “And, my family is doing great. They now know that I can do things on my own.”
Padilla said that golf also has been a salvation for him as he worked through his rehabilitative therapy.
“It’s a big part of my life and who I am now,” said Padilla. “It has helped me believe in myself and I became a better man. Sure, it’s a tough game but I tell other guys who may suffer from such things as PTSD, amputees or TBIs [Traumatic Brain Injury] that there is a way to get value in your life.
“Once you achieve something, as simple as hitting a ball high into the air, you can feel you can do anything. The values of the game put everything in your life in perspective.”
Padilla has developed a golf swing that utilizes his new prosthetic arm and he credits his association with PGA Professionals like Jim Estes of Olney, Md., the co-founder of the Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA) for advancing his outlook on life.
The Folds of Honor Foundation formally presented Padilla’s children – Monique and Melissa, Emily and Ramon Jr., with scholarships in June.
As for Padilla’s recovery, he said that he has made “great progress.”
“I’m doing great, and though I still get headaches, I take my medicine and I’m getting through the day,” says Padilla. “I am remembering things better now; I’m doing OK. There was short-term memory loss, but I’m getting there.”
On Aug. 7, 2009, Ramon Padilla made one final official visit to Walter Reed Medical Center. It was his release date, and he was there to complete paperwork, pay his respects to therapists, physicians and fellow soldiers.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends at Walter Reed,” says Padilla. “We play golf together, and you know it was really kind of hard to leave.”
In September 2009, Padilla retired from the U.S. Army.
Soon after his final Walter Reed visit, Ret. Staff Sgt. Ramon Padilla made plans to bring seven fellow soldiers to play in a golf outing at Manor Country Club in Silver Spring, Md.
“There are plans for us to get a donated tee time for the year for soldiers,” says Padilla. “That is exciting and I know that the guys will really be pleased.”
Source: PGA Magazine