Richard Reyes says he is proud of what his 21-year-old son Brandon has accomplished after only about two-and-a-half years in the U.S. Marine Corps. His son is now a Lance Corporal with four medals that include a Purple Heart that he earned while in Afghanistan. He returned to the United States about two months ago. But Reyes says, “It was nine months of Hell for me. I thank God that he’s back in the Carolinas.”
For many Latinos, as well for many other families, emotions are mixed when a relative serves in the military. There is pride of course, fear at times, and for some, a sense of proving their loyalty to the U.S.
Reyes, a 45-year-old corrections officer, said he has always believed that Americans should give back to their country through service. “He has been through a lot,” he said about Brandon, who he said can‘t discuss many of his experiences for confidentiality reasons. “I was in the Army but I never saw combat. He is a true veteran.”He recalled how he expected that Brandon would pursue college after he graduated from high school due to his high intelligence. Brandon surprised his father by choosing the Marines. While he was proud of his son’s choice, he said that he had mixed feelings.
“I understand that it’s his duty,” he said regarding Brandon’s service in the Middle East. “They call; you haul. But you still worry as a parent.”
Eliut Lozada also expressed his pride in his Marine son; 19-year-old Nikolas, who completed basic training in November of 2013 and is now training to be a combat engineer. Nikolas plans on perhaps starting his own business when his time in the military is complete.
“He got interested in the military about a year ago,” said Lozada. “He was not sure what he wanted to do for college and a career.”
He admits he had reservations about his son entering the military, although his grandfather served during Word War I, his Uncle served during World War II and his brother served in the National Guard for 12 years.
“My nephew joined the Marines in 2004,” said Lozada. “He was in Iraq. It was hard for him. I was not sure I wanted my son to go through it.”
Armando Elias, a 41 year-old New Britain Police Officer, and his family faced joy and sadness when he joined the Army. He started his career at age 20 in Puerto Rico as a corrections officer and became a police officer at age 21 while earning a degree in police science. “Being a police officer in Puerto Rico is riskier than in America, and pays less,” he said.
He joined the U.S. Army at age 26 and served in the field artillery. He held the rank of sergeant before his service ended.
“It wasn’t easy,” said his wife Johana, a Puerto Rican native who he met during high school in New Britain, and to whom he has been married for 20 years. “We were struggling.”
“I was sad when he first left, but I was happy that the family would have more money. It also allowed us to travel to different parts of the country.”
“I always said that I’m Puerto Rican but I’m an American first,” he said.
He served in Iraq from 2003 through 2004. Like many veterans, he prefers not to discuss his combat experiences.
Johana said it was hard for her and their son Joseph.
“I couldn’t watch the news,” she said.
Armando Elias joined the New Britain Police Department in 2006. He estimated that about 25 percent of the officers serving with his department come from various branches of the military.
He said that his military background, his professional experiences in Puerto Rico, his college degree and being able to speak two languages helped him get the job.
“It helped me get where I am today,” he said. “When I left Puerto Rico I couldn’t speak English at all.”
But while he enjoyed his service, which included joining the 82nd Airborne, he was worried about supporting his family after his contract ended. He said it was difficult for many people with combat specializations to find jobs.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” he said.