A Marine veteran is now the second double-amputee police officer in the United States after graduating from the Fort Worth Police Academy on Dec. 11, 2020.
Zach Briseno always had intended to become a police officer. But first, he wanted to serve in the Marine Corps. The now 35-year-old Fort Worth native had enlisted right after graduating high school in 2005, and deployed twice to Iraq.
On his second tour in November 2007, Cpl. Briseno was riding in a Humvee in Fallujah when an IED detonated directly beneath his seat, blowing off his legs.
“This one happened to be command detonated, so they were watching us from a nearby window and as soon as my vehicle got over it, they detonated it,” he said in a video posted by the Fort Worth Police Department. “From what they said, my legs were pretty much already gone. They were blown off in the explosion.”
Briseno received initial treatment in Iraq before being flown to Germany and then Bethesda, Maryland.
In the video he described the road to recovery as a “rollercoaster of emotions,” accepting that although he could sometimes feel his legs, they weren’t actually there.
Now a father of four, Briseno and his family live in a house built by veterans nonprofit Helping a Hero in 2011 to accommodate his needs.
As a teenager, Briseno had been a part of the Fort Worth Police Explorer program. The mentors he found there, he said, inspired him to become a police officer after serving in the military.
Family history also played a role in his passion for service. Briseno’s father served in the Army, and both his grandfathers were Marines, according to a press release by 3BL Media.
“I wanted to serve my country and then I wanted to come back and serve my community,” Briseno said in the Fort Worth video.
Though both his legs are gone, Briseno walks without a noticeable limp and ran miles as part of his police training, according to NBC 5 Fort Worth.
Briseno and 23 classmates from FWPD Class 148 graduated on Dec. 11, 2020, in a ceremony streamed on the department’s Facebook page.
During training, he contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for 10 days. The former Marine made a full recovery and returned to training soon after, NBC 5 Fort Worth reported.
At the police academy graduation, Briseno received an award from instructors for being the most dedicated and determined recruit as well as an award from his peers for being the most respected of the group.
“You can do anything you want to do,” Briseno said. “You just really have to put the work in for it. It may cost you some blood sweat and tears, but if you want it bad enough, you can do it.”
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.