EXPERT INTERVIEW<br /><ul><li>Why did you decide to enlist in the military?
The reason I enlisted into the military right after high school was a sense a service. Not so many people can say they served their country, even those who were born in the United States. I was born in Lima, Peru and came to the United States when I was 3 years old. And when I graduated high school, I felt it was my duty to serve this country. So I enlisted into the United States Marine Corps for 4 years active duty from 1994-1998. I am glad I enlisted into the Marine Corps because it taught me so many things, especially preparing me to become a police officer in the civilian side. Then the tragedy of 9-11 occurred in New York City and Washington D.C. which changed the course of my life years later. After our country’s heart has been pierced by the enemy’s terrorist attacks, I felt once again it was my duty to serve my country. But I couldn’t enlist back into the military immediately because few months later I was accepted into the police academy. So I waited til I had the opportunity to reenlist back into the military. In 2006 I enlisted into the Georgia Army National Guard in Canton with Bravo Troop 1-108th Cavalry. In 2007 we received the alert order for deployment for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. When I received the order, you would think I would have been nerves or scared, but on the contrary. I was excited and felt an honor to serve my country. In January 2009, was our first train up for deployment and we were shipping out April 2009 to Afghanistan for one year.
Were you scared when you first arrived in the war zone?
I did not know what to think. We trained for about 3 months prior to leaving the United States. On April 19, 2009 we landed in Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan (Former Soviet Union located west of China/North of Tajikistan and Afghanistan) This is the base transit point for US military personnel coming and going from Afghanistan. More info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_Center_at_Manas On April 21, 2009 we were on a flight out to Afghanistan on a C-17. All the soldiers were pressed sitting tight together, all gears strapped on with our weapons to our side. I felt butterflies all through my stomach during the flight. Then the dark light turned on and they made an announcement, 5 minutes…5 minutes for touchdown. I’m starting to feel anxious, excited, scared, you name it. Moments later the plane shook hard from the landing we started to slow down. Suddenly a load buzzing sound came and the huge back door of the C-17 started to open. All I can think is the same thing when I played football in high school, “It’s Game Time!” When I walked out from the C-17 and my boots touched the land of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, my eyes were wide open like an Owl. I looked everywhere around me. Even though we were on a military base, all I was thinking we are going to get attacked. For the first few weeks, I was on high alert. I believe everyone goes through that when they first land in a combat zone.
What was your daily routine during training; during deployment; and on the battlefield?
Our daily routine for train-up was basically powerpoints of lectures and hands-on exercise for preparation for deployment. Once we were deployed, our troop was broken down into teams. I was assigned with 1st Infantry Division Saracen Team as part of the Security Force to train the Afghanistan National Border Patrol for the first 4 months. Our area of operation was the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to mentor the Afghanistan National Border Patrol on better securing their borders against enemy combatants and to gain the trust of the villagers in order to have a working relationship with the Afghanistan Government. Our purpose is to allow the Afghan Government to gain control and trust of their people, so we can successfully leave their country without military presence.
The question pertains to Iraqis, but I will answer about the Afghan people. I only served in Afghanistan. The Afghans are friendly; however, like any other country you need to be wary about them, especially being in a combat zone. There have been instances where Afghans has portrayed themselves friendly which in fact, they were siding for the Talibans. But at the same token, it’s sad when a country is consider a third world country and when the enemy holds their family hostage or threatens to kill a family member if they don’t follow the command of the Taliban, basically bribery, this is the challenge we face daily. So we are careful. I have met many Afghans who are happy we are there to lift them up from the Taliban regime. The Afghan culture is very unique from what we are use to. It’s a Muslim country and the Afghans are respectfully devoted to their religion. They pray at least 5 times a day. The Afghan men and the Afghan women are rarely seen walking together in public. Normally women stay with women and men stay amongst men in public. You will never see an Afghan woman’s face. Afghan women wear Burka which covers their body head to toe. The only thing Afghan women would wear fashionably is their shoes and show off their pedicure. This is the only part of the body which they can expose publicly. The Afghan men wear perahan tunban. The perahan tunban looks like pajamas, so a nickname the Americans gave it is Man Jammies. One thing that took me off surprise you would see Afghan men hold each other’s hand. At first I was surprised to see that because of their very strict Muslim religion, but in Afghanistan it’s not a homosexual act. It’s a sign of very close friendship and trust. Has anyone ever held my hand before, yes. Did I feel weird about it, yes I did, but I did not want to offend their culture because I was in their country. Besides we are there to work with them not against them. Another thing about their culture that is interesting you can ask them about their family, but can never ask them about their women. For instance, I can never directly ask them about their mother, sister, daughter, etc. It’s better to leave it general and ask them about their family. The Afghan villagers love to talk and drink Chai. There has been many instances; during our missions when we patrol to a village an Afghan Elder (tribe leader / leader for the village) would invite us into their homes. The Afghan are very hospitality people, even if they are poor.
On base we saw female Navy personal, Air Force personal, and Army personal. However, we did not work with them side to side because our mission was to work hand to hand with the Afghan National Border Patrol. But what I’ve seen them on base and the women were well respected.
Were you injured? Our mission was to train the Afghanistan National Border Patrol and the Afghan National Police. Our area of operation was the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to mentor the Afghanistan National Border Patrol on better securing their borders against enemy combatants and to gain the trust of the villagers in order to have a working relationship with the Afghanistan Government. Our purpose is to allow the Afghan Government to gain control and trust of their people, so we can successfully leave their country without military presence.
On November 8, 2009 while on a combat patrol convoy we were headed to one of our Afghan Police Districts. During our patrol I remembered a dream I had the night before and I advised my driver to please be careful today because I saw us flipping our M-RAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) Vehicle. The guys didn’t seem please me telling them my dream and told me I should have said something before leaving the wire, jokingly. (leaving the wire means leaving the base onto the combat zone) Well no later than 5 minutes after telling them my dream, an Afghan semi-truck crossed into our lane of traffic and collided into us head-on. I was the gunner positioned in the turret. We were all medevac to the hospital and they kept me overnight for observation. I was knocked around pretty good, but I felt I could continue. So I told the doctor I was fine and that I needed to return back to my unit. The next day I return back to my unit, but with limited work. I was forced to stay working behind the desk for the next 3 weeks. During these times my headaches started to increase, vision started to become a problem and ringing to my ears. On Dec 1 I was able to return back to full duty and continue my missions with my platoon. Days passed and the headaches continued. On Dec 12, 2009 during a combat patrol, I suddenly lost consciousness. Again I was medevac, but this time I was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. They conducted a few tests to include an MRI. They concluded I suffered a mild traumatic brain injury due to the head-on collision. They also found I suffered bilateral knee ligaments injury and lower back injury. Based on their findings they sent me back to the United States for continuous medical treatment where I receive today.
On December 20, 2009 I was on a C-17 returning back to the United States from Germany with a lot of wounded Soldiers and Marines coming from Iraq and Afghanistan. Honestly, I felt angry and guilty returning back. I thought I would be excited especially now that I am away from the combat zone, but the problem was my unit was still back there. I wanted to return home with my unit, but instead I am returning home alone. We landed at Andrews Air Force Base, Washington D.C. and there were lots of high ranking officers welcoming all of us home and telling us they appreciate our service. But when I looked at each wounded Soldiers and Marines, we were not happy. This is not the homecoming we anticipated. Finally on December 23, 2009 I arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia where my wife was waiting for me in the emergency room. When I saw her, she let out a cry of joy it made me emotional. The next day, Christmas Eve, my wife drove me home and I got to surprise my two little boys. Unfortunately I did not get the big welcome home parade the unit received on March, but what I was able to provide was the magical gift for my son who wished his Father to be home for Christmas. And now that the unit is back, it does feel better being back in the United States.
I believe we have a good cause being in Afghanistan to make it a better nation. War itself I don’t believe in, but what I do believe in is I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice
I am assigned with the CBWTU (Community Based Warriors Transition Unit) basically it’s a program for wounded soldiers who are on active status, but can reside at their home instead being on a military post to receive medical care. Currently I am going through physical therapy for my lower back problems and on-going bilateral knee pain. I am also seeing a Chiropractor for my neck, back and knees. I continue to have headaches on a daily basis. Medical doctors tell me with time it should go away. My orders was suppose to end on March 1, 2010, but due to my injuries I sustained in Afghanistan I have been extended til at least the end of September pending evaluation.
Would you go back to the military if you were needed?
Unfortunately in the status I am in right now, I am unable to provide the military 100% due to my injuries. It has been an honor to serve my country, but now I have to take care of myself physically.