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Miguel Rocha Pays It Forward Through the Clay Hunt Fellows Program

Miguel Rocha knew he belonged with Team Rubicon on his very first mission – dismantling a Vietnam veteran’s mobile home.  

“All day long, everybody busted their asses to get the mobile home taken down and put all the debris in dumpsters. I could tell he [the homeowner] was in awe of what we were doing for him…right then in that instant, a light switch went off inside of me and I thought ‘wow, this is what I need to be doing’,” said Rocha. 

Six months later, Rocha is one of 12 members of The Clay Hunt Fellows Program, a year-long talent development program sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The CHFP equips veterans with the tools to deploy military skills at home in the field of emergency management.

Army veteran Miguel Rocha (left) participated in a team-building event just outside Los Angeles for the Clay Hunt Fellows Program Cohort 5 orientation.

Paying it forward has been Rocha’s approach since growing up in a family struggling to make ends meet. He saw firsthand the value of a helping hand and a kind smile in times of need — an experience that would stick with him throughout his life. After entering high school, he was determined to turn himself around and viewed committing to the military as the perfect way to repay those who had helped him before.  

“Maybe I didn’t give that heartfelt thank you, or ‘wow you really changed my life.’ I think about it now as I’m going to serve — I’m going to help someone else get that warm fuzzy feeling through service.”

After completing basic training before his senior year of high school, Rocha quickly rose through the ranks to a platoon sergeant in the Army Reserves. As a platoon sergeant and tactical logistics manager in the 238th Transportation Company hauling fuel, he was tasked with a dual mission: safeguarding the platoon under his command and ensuring that the military supply train functioned smoothly. It was a demanding mental load as well as a physical one. In addition to the 16-hour days spent training soldiers for deployment, Rocha had to contend with the scariest fear of all: the unknown. 

Rocha (right) served as a platoon sergeant and tactical logistics manager in the U.S. Army Reserves.

“A lot of us didn’t know what to expect when we went into Iraq. So for me, I didn’t know what to train my guys against. We didn’t know what our mission was going to be. Honestly, my only motivator was to take that extra step to ensure we all made it home alive.”

To survive and bring his men home safely from his two deployments, he relied on his work ethic, critical thinking, and mental resilience — all qualities that would prepare him perfectly to work with TR.

Rocha serves as a volunteer district coordinator in Ohio with Team Rubicon.

Yet pushing himself so hard would come at a steep price. After his medical discharge from the Army, Rocha felt cut off. For the first time in over a decade, there was no mission to complete, no target to hit, nobody to help. All the harrowing situations he had experienced in the military paled in comparison to his next challenge: depression.

“I was in a pretty bad black hole…it put me in a really dark place. I was very withdrawn; I was very depressed.” The Wounded Warrior Project and Team Rubicon provided an outlet to help Rocha cope and reignite his passion for service. From that very first day disassembling the veteran’s mobile home, Rocha was hooked on TR. The structure and community helped him move out of the dark place he had fallen into after his retirement, while the opportunity to serve renewed his sense of purpose.

Cohort 5 of Clay Hunt Fellows tested their resilience through a good old fashioned game of dodgeball.

“That day quite literally got me out of this depression that I was in, and I started looking to the future again. I’ve done my job, I’ve done it well, and now I’m ready to step on the gas and go forward.”

Now with the support of the CHFP, Rocha is again turning his attention to paying it forward by helping others find the same assistance he did. “I was afraid to talk about all the stuff that I went through, and I didn’t talk specifics about my deployments. Now those are the kind of things I’m not afraid to talk about. Yes, we all go there. But yes, you can also come back.”

Rocha’s altruism typifies the spirit of both the CHFP and TR as a whole. “I feel an overwhelming satisfaction when I give back to the community and veterans, like in some way I am saying, silently, ‘thank you’ to each and every one of those people who have unknowingly taught me the meaning of service.”

Aidan Stenson is a rising high school senior born and raised in Los Angeles. When not writing, he enjoys playing piano and cheering on his New England Patriots.