Family, Culture, Creed....PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – It’s Hispanic-American heritage month, a time for people to celebrate and recognize the contributions of Hispanic-Americans all over the world. One notable Puerto Rican-American, Roberto Clemente, the first Latin-American baseball player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, once said, “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
This couldn’t be more true for the present-day life of one Puerto Rican servicemember U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Victor Vazquez.
“At one point in my life, I wanted to do something to better my life,” said Vazquez. “It was after Sept. 11, and it was like a calling because if I don’t do it now, I’m not going to be able to do it anyway. I joined the Navy when I was 34 years old. I turned 35 when I graduated boot camp. I wanted the opportunity to give back what I have learned as a civilian.”
But this story doesn’t start in Puerto Rico. It begins in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Vazquez was born. His biography begins first as an American and then as a Puerto Rican.
“I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but I was raised in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico,” said Vazquez. “I consider myself 100-percent Puerto Rican because I did everything in P.R. I went to school, I did my prep classes, I did everything (in Puerto Rico).”Vazquez is an operations specialist for the U.S. Naval Reserves. He currently works for Combined Joint Task Force-1 conducting intelligence operations. Aside from his military obligations, Vazquez still finds time to recognize and serve other facets of what he feels are cultural obligations.
“Being Puerto Rican is more than being 100-percent proud,” he said. “Us Puerto Ricans, we always want to excel. We always want to do better. We all have a big heart and we love our parents. When the hurricanes struck Haiti and they were looking for volunteers, I was one of them. It’s in our nature to get the calling and be there.”
More than just natural disasters, Vazquez continues to serve due to his sense of duty toward the mission and the people.
“The mission,” said Vazquez, on why he serves. “We try to give the Afghans here a better life, we try to avoid the ‘green-on-blue’ incidents going on – that’s my main goal. That’s what the extra sweat is for. I don’t want any of my fellow (servicemembers) to run into any incidents. We are all here doing the same thing.”
Workdays are long for Vazquez and can often last 14 or 16 hours. In the midst of the busy days, Vazquez must still find time to keep his sanity and stay positive, and does so by working out with his supervisor, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Nick Wagner, non-commissioned officer in charge of Tactical Document and Media Exploitation.
“One trait is that he doesn’t complain,” said Wagner of Vazquez. “He is a very hard worker and overall a positive and energetic person to be around.”
Vazquez’s positive contributions are just a smaller scale of a larger picture. He believes Hispanic-Americans contribute to the U.S. in a multitude of ways, aside from being a large melting pot.
“We have a strong country because we (Hispanic-Americans) have strong beliefs,” emphasized Vazquez.
Beliefs and faith are another side of Vazquez’s personality, which contribute to his dedication to service. Vazquez spends what little down-time he has practicing his faith.
“I try to read (to decompress), listen to some music and pray,” he said. “I like to pray a lot.”
A testament to his religious faith, Vazquez carries his rosary beads in his pocket with him everywhere he goes.
Although faith is a large part of Vazquez’s positive attitude and endurance, faith alone is not what keeps this servicemember going. The support of his family and heritage have contributed a great deal to his strength and endurance – especially in a maternal way.
“I consider my Hispanic role model to be my mom,” said Vazquez. The mother of six children, Vazquez’s mother has become a key figure in his life. “She told me how to be a man. Every single one of our brothers she raised differently. She had a different view of how we would become as a grown-up.”
Vazquez recently received news that his mother is ill. The news, although negative, wasn’t a mission-ender for him. In fact, it charges him to continue on.
“Every day I live for my mom. The battle we’re fighting in this country, it doesn’t even matter when you see the battle she’s going through with her health condition. She’s my drive everyday to get up, work here 14 hours, seven days a week and do my best," he said.
Only two classes of people found the Babe: the shepherds and the Wise Men; the simple and the learned; those who knew that they knew nothing, and those who knew that they did not know everything. He is never seen by the man of one book; never by the man who thinks he knows. Not even God can tell the proud anything! Only the humble can find God!
--Fulton J. Sheen, excerpt from The Life of Christ
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