TECHNOLOGY/SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Paralyzed Special Ops Marine Walks to Medal Ceremony with Robotic Exoskeleton [UPDATE]
Special Marine, Special Machine.
UPDATES with links to two videos of ceremony.
In the November 17 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, we wrote about U.S. Special Operations Command’s quest for a lightweight, ballistic protective suit equipped with sensors that could monitor the wearer’s vital signs, signal for help if they were injured, add support allowing soldiers to carry heavy loads more easily — and maybe even jump higher or run faster. Regular readers will remember we’ve blogged about the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS) several times since February.
In the latest story (subscription required) we noted that SOCOM says it will share these technology developments with the other armed services and that it could also have applications “for the Homeland Security Department, local first responders and even seriously injured veterans.”
When we wrote that, we thought “that will be a great benefit to wounded warriors and civilian paraplegics when it happens someday in the future.” But the news coming out of a small military ceremony in California last Friday (November 21) indicates someday is here already. Captain Derek Herrera of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) walked to the ceremony at Camp Pendleton to receive the Bronze Star medal with “V” for valor device for heroic leadership under fire in Afghanistan. While his combat award was certainly notable, the really remarkable thing about the event was that Herrera — paralyzed from the chest down since he was struck by a sniper’s bullet in June 2012 — was able to walk up and receive his decoration.
The captain walked with the assistance of a robotic exoskeleton that moves his legs. Known as the “ReWalk,” the technology consists of leg braces, a computer and batteries-equipped backpack, a watch-like controller and crutches. The system, manufactured by Israel-based ReWalk Robotics Ltd., is the first powered exoskeleton approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the United States rehabilitate people suffering paraplegia due to spinal cord injury. And Herrera is one of the first people to acquire the system. The MARSOC Foundation, a charitable fund for MARSOC Marines, raised the money for Herrera to buy the $69,500 device, according to the Associated Press.
While ReWalk is not among the companies SOCOM lists as participants in the TALOS development project, its technology shows that powered exoskeletons are here and like computers and robots have a wide array of potential uses.
Herrera also received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal. The ceremony also marked Herrera’s retirement for medical reasons from the Marines, reported Marine Corps Times, noting that Herrera has remained active despite his injuries: participating in 10 kilometer road races and triathlons, working toward a business degree and renovating his house. The 2006 Naval Academy graduate had vowed that he would retire standing on his own — the same as he did when he joined the Marine Corps.
Click here to see a short Defense Department video report of Herrera using the ReWalk robotic braces at his retirement ceremony.
Click here to see a longer Marine Corps video without narration where you can hear the exoskeleton in action.
Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, Marine Corps, National Security and Defense, News Developments, Technology, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: Afghanistan, Bronze Star medal with "V" device, Capt. Derek Herrera, Counter Insurgency, counter terrorism, Marine Corps, ReWalk Robotics, Special Operations, Topics, wounded warrior.