Marine Staff Sergeant Guillermo Tejada grew up around cars and his dream had always been to own a Camaro. A career Marine, SSgt Tejada had become accustomed to making sacrifices. With a growing family, he would have to put aside his dream and go to work at other passions, being a United States Marine, a father and a loving husband. Things changed dramatically for the 31 year old Marine on November 11, 2010.
Serving in Afghanistan in America’s war on terror, Tejada was leading his men through a rough area where there were known combatants. As the platoon sergeant, Tejada was the most experienced in military tactics and had more familiarity with the area than many of his Marines. Leading from the front, Staff Sergeant Tejada selflessly took a position close to the point where he could guide his men and keep them out of harm’s way.
“Things went from bad to worse…”
Without warning, Tejada’s platoon was hit with an explosion from an IED. He knew instantly that he was in trouble and a likely wave of small weapons fire would be coming in to their position shortly. The Staff Sergeant’s legs were gone and his crew worked to stabilize the wounded leader. “Things went from bad to worse,” says Tejada, “The enemy was firing from different directions and closing in. We were in a real bad spot. I didn’t think we were going to make it out.”
Tejada continued to co-ordinate the defensive attack for the two hour fire fight. “I knew that my Marines were taking care of me and I needed to take care of them,” he said. When the area was controlled, a MEDIVAC helicopter removed Tejada from the battle zone and he was taken to a care unit where he could be stabilized. But the damage was done. The leader of Marines had lost both of his legs above the knee.
Semper Fi Fund and WyoTech join forces.
The Semper Fi Fund working with WyoTech, launched a program to help SSgt. Tejada realize the lifelong dream of owning a Camaro. Calling in help from powerTV, Butch Lynch’s Imagineering Shop, Cherry Bomb Exhaust, MGP caliper covers and Eibach Springs, the team worked to provide a new 2011 Camaro SS with several upgrades to the wounded warrior. Presentation of this gift was scheduled to take place during WyoTech’s annual Wounded Warrior car show at the Long Beach Campus. Pulling all the pieces together, right up to the eleventh hours, The Semper Fi Fund and WyoTech drove the effort.
On Sunday, August 14th, the shiny new Camaro with custom-painted rally stripes and upgraded suspension and exhaust sat under the Cover Craft car cover, waiting for the presentation ceremony. The publicity shy Marine and his family were there, shyly talking to the media and downplaying their tragedy. If anything, the family viewed it as less of a tragedy and more as an opportunity to accomplish more.
SSgt Tejada explained that in his mind, he wasn’t a hero. “I knew that my Marines had my back. Training took over and I did what I was expected to do. I took care of them. If one part of that had broken down, none of my Marines would be here today. I’m happy to be alive, so having the Semper Fi Fund and WyoTech presenting me a gift like this beyond my wildest dreams,” Tejada admitted.
Presentation of the Car.
While a huge crowd was watching the proceedings, WyoTech Long Beach Campus President Brad Janis explained that WyoTech students with prior service worked on the Camaro’s upgrades and that longtime military supporter Butch Lynch added the show caliber custom-paint. Janis turned the presentation over to the campus’ Vice President, Tom Stein, who had served a full career in Marine Aviation as a pilot in the CH-46 helicopter squadrons on the West Coast. Stein commented on how proud the school was to be able to play a part in the annual Wounded Warrior car show and in particular, this presentation to a “real American hero.”
Stein turned over the actual presentation of the keys and unveiling of the Marine’s dream car to Lisa Stehle, Outreach Representative for the Semper Fi Fund. Stehle expressed her pride in being a part of an organization that focuses on taking care of their own, then directed that the cover be removed from the car. SSgt. Tejada, visibly shaken by this show of gratitude accepted the keys to the Camaro, and after a photo session where family members all tried out the driver’s seat, Tejada took his rightful place behind the wheel and turned the motor over. Utilizing the newly installed hand controls, the Marine took his new car out for a spin around the block to complete the dream.
There were very few dry eyes at the show as “TJ” pulled away in the Camaro.
Cars attending the WyoTech Wounded Warrior Car show:
Enjoy the car gallery below for more photos of the cars that were on display at WyoTech’s 4th annual Wounded Warrior car show.