The Wounded Warrior Project serves veterans and service members who incurred physical or mental injuries, illnesses or wounds during their military service. The project takes a holistic approach when serving warriors and their families, and encourages economic empowerment and engagement.
Below are biographies of several veterans who have represented the Wounded Warrior Project at NYLF National Security. These veterans share their stories of leadership and courage with students, helping them understand the realities often faced by those defending our country.
When Toby Montoya was a child, he loved the John Wayne movie The Green Berets. But when he watched it, in his mind’s eye, he didn’t see John Wayne the movie star, Toby saw his real hero, his father – a Vietnam veteran. He also envisioned his grandfather, a World War II veteran. It’s a family legacy of military service that has always inspired him. “I knew I wanted to join ever since I was a little kid,” says Toby. “Our military family moved many times – Boston, Colorado, New Mexico – and I loved the adventure of travel.”
Iraq is a long way from home, admits Toby. The Army deployed him there in 2004 and deployed him again to Afghanistan in 2008. That’s where he barely survived the blast from an improvised explosive device (IED). “My head, neck, back, bladder, and lungs were all injured in the blast. I suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) and continue to deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Toby has never let his injuries defeat him. He credits much of his recovery to his mother, who he says encourages him every day. And every day the future looks brighter. He plans to complete school and earn his master’s degree – all while doing everything he can to live life to its fullest. “My family taught me to give, even when I have nothing to give,” says Toby. “Kindness is free; I believe you should never ask to have it repaid. I want to be a good son, a good father, and be known for honor and integrity.”
Music plays such an important role in Sal Gonzalez’s life. He seems to have a song for every occasion. On any given day, you could find him strumming along to Eric Church’s Love Your Love the Most, Lee Brice’s A Woman Like You, or Garth Brooks’ More Than a Memory. That love of music has helped Sal persevere through some tough trials, like his parents’ divorce and his emotional reaction to the events of 9/11.
“That tragedy inspired me to join the military,” says Sal. “The fact that I come from a family of immigrants propelled me to want to join. I wanted to give back for all this country has given us.” Sal joined the Marines on October 21, 2003 and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines as a machine gunner. A year later, he found himself in Ramadi, Iraq, asked to “give back” much more for his country than he anticipated.
“I was hit by an IED and was in a coma for about a week,” says Sal. “I woke up at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Months later my left leg was amputated below the knee.” Sal now utilizes a prosthetic leg, which he says hasn’t impacted his daily life too much. He tries to exercise every day to keep his weight down. And nothing will stop him from making music. “I work on writing songs every afternoon. Playing and writing music has always been my passion, and luckily my injury has not affected that at all. I’m always striving to improve and earn that next standing ovation – which I’ve been lucky to have had many in my career.”
His next goal: a record deal. “That would be the icing on the cake. But you can never forget that life has inspiration all around us. Just look at all the Wounded Warriors who are such good role models. Those are the men and women I admire most.”
Jeffery Sinchak joined the Navy in July 1984 because he wanted a sense of purpose and adventure. What he found as a Hospital Corpsman and Navy Diver was a deeper sense of duty to his country, to his fellow warriors, and to the needs of people around the world.
As a member of various Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Naval Special Warfare teams, Jeff served in Operation Southern Watch (1993−94), Operation Restore Hope (1994−95), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003−04). Throughout it all, he suffered a number of service-connected injuries, including a gunshot wound, an arterial gas embolism, decompression sickness, and several reconstructive surgeries to his broken foot. “All contribute to who I am today,” he says.
Jeff achieved the rank of Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (Diver) during his 24-year career. His combat service in Iraq included assignment as an Independent Duty Corpsman attached to the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, where he established a combat medical treatment facility in Al Tadji, Iraq. This facility was responsible for treating those injured in combat, and saved an untold number of lives.
Today, Jeff and his family continue to manage the effects he experiences from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He credits his family, fellow warriors, and organizations like Wounded Warrior Project for helping him to evaluate the dark days of his trauma and move forward with his “new normal,” giving him hope for tomorrow and the courage to continue caring for others.