An Army Ranger honored as the 2014 Military Times Soldier of the Year has been invited to attend the State of the Union address Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Sgt. Thomas Block, of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, was invited to the presidential address by Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat from Minnesota. Block is a native of Waseca, Minnesota.
"I'm really excited about this invitation, and it's very humbling," Block said in a statement posted on the 75th Ranger Regiment's Facebook page. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to rub shoulders with our nation's leaders."
Block was severely wounded in October 2013 by an improvised explosive device while on his fourth combat deployment. As a team leader with 3rd Battalion's B Company, Block was part of a joint task force conducting combat operations in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
On Oct. 6, 2013, Block and his fellow Rangers were on a mission to dismantle a group of insurgents planning suicide bombing attacks in the area. As the Rangers entered the target compound, a suspected suicide bomber detonated herself near the troops.
Block was thrown 35 feet into a haphazard minefield. Four other soldiers died on that mission and nearly two dozen others were wounded.
Because of the bomb, Block lost his right eye and suffered multiple lacerations to his legs, and burns and shrapnel wounds on his left side. The blast shattered his nose and right cheekbone and caused his left lung to collapse.
After more than year of recovery and multiple operations, Block continues to work on his recovery, conduct Ranger physical training multiple times a day and share his story.
Block has spoken at leadership courses, mentored fellow wounded warriors, and even counseled the Oakland Raiders football team about resilience, perseverance and recovery. His goal is to inspire and motivate others while remaining a Ranger.
Block was honored as the 2014 Military Times Soldier of the Year during a July 30 ceremony on Capitol Hill.
The Military Times Soldier, Marine, Airman, Sailor and Coast Guardsman of the Year were nominated by their peers, who recounted how each goes above and beyond the call of duty in both the military and their communities.
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.