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Soldier Reflects on Hispanic Heritage

support our troops us soldier hispanic heritagePHOTO: Army Sgt. Maj. Jose Velazquez joined the Army as a way to get out of his hometown and fight the possibility of becoming a “statistic.” U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.– Army Sgt. Maj. Jose Velazquez, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command public affairs sergeant major, is one of the more than 158,000 Hispanic Americans serving in the military today. Reflecting on National Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15, he recalled what joining the Army meant to him and how it changed his life.
 
Velazquez said he grew up in the lawless Essex Street Projects of Lawrence, Massachusetts, with his mother, who had moved from Puerto Rico to the United States. “My mother worked in factories to help provide and raise me,” he said. “Her hopes for me were to not become another statistic of the city, with working in a factory or ending up dead on a street corner.” After graduating from high school, Velazquez said, he tried his hand at community college, but fell short. “At the time, I was [still] struggling to not be a statistic, but in many ways I already was,” he explained. “By 1990, I had already failed out of college and had been hired by a clothing factory, working in what was known as the ‘sweat shop.’” Velazquez said he knew this was not the life he wanted to live, but was not sure about how to survive otherwise. ‘I knew I couldn’t stay there’ “I still remember like it was yesterday,” he said. “What I remember the most is the blank stares of the good, decent men and women who worked there. It felt like their hopes and dreams had died amongst those mill walls. I knew I couldn’t stay there. I knew I had to find a way out.”

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Meet Your Military: Boom Operator Follows in Father's Footsteps

support our troops us soldier boom operatorPHOTO: Air Force Senior Airman Danielle Repp performs an aerial refueling operation in a KC-135 Stratotanker. Photo courtesy of Daniel Repp ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England – Some families have a history of military service, whether it be in different branches or the same one. Less common however, is for two consecutive generations not only serve in the same service branch, but also to pursue the same career field. This is the case with Air Force Senior Airman Danielle Repp, a 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator from Spokane, Washington, and her father, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Repp. Both Repps chose to be boom operators, with Danielle entering the Air Force in 2012. Her father enlisted in 1981. Danielle said her desire to become a boom operator stemmed from her father's career, which she got to observe first-hand growing up. "Boom operator was definitely No. 1 on my list," she said. Her first exposure to the boom operator world was all it took to peak her interest in the career field, she said. "I got to fly space-available once on a flight from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, to Hawaii, and I got to watch [my dad] during [a [refueling operation]," she recalled. "Seeing pictures and hearing how much he likes the job made me think, 'You know, I don't want to sit at a desk all day. I want to be out there doing something.'"

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Meet Your Military: Minnesota Brothers Reunite in Kuwait

support our troops kuwait us minnesota brosPHOTO: Army Sgt. 1st Class Laudert of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Combat Aviation Brigade and his brother, Army Spc. Cameron Laudert of the Army Reserve’s 452nd Combat Support Hospital, display the White Earth Nation flag while deployed to Camp Buerhing, Kuwait. U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Holly Elkin CAMP BUERHING, Kuwait – Though one serves in the Army Reserve and the other in the Minnesota National Guard, a pair of brothers from Monticello, Minnesota, are deployed here together. “I didn’t know if our paths would cross,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Lowell Laudert as he sat with his brother, Army Spc. Cameron Laudert.

Cameron, a health care specialist, is assigned to the Army Reserve’s 452nd Combat Support Hospital out of Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Lowell, an intelligence analyst, is assigned to the Minnesota Army National Guard’s 34th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. When Cameron deployed to Kuwait last year, he said, he never imagined he would be sharing lunches with his brother at the dining facility here. “As soon as I got here, I tracked him down,” said Lowell as the brothers reflected on their reunion. Cameron, having been deployed for several months before his brother joined him, had grown accustomed to being called by his last name. When he heard a familiar voice calling out “Cameron,” he was unsure of how to react.

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Meet Your Military: Soldier Translates During U.S.-Japan Exercise

support our troops us japan soldiers PHOTO: Army Spc. Joshua Williams translates between a U.S. soldier and Japanese troops during an impromptu lunch-break lesson on special artillery during Operation Rising Thunder 2014 at Yakima Training Center, Wash., Sept. 8, 2014.YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – The ability to speak more than one language is a difficult skill to master, and learning a new language in adulthood is not something many people accomplish. Williams, a linguist in the Washington National Guard, worked as an interpreter for U.S. and Japanese forces during the operation, which began Sept. 2 and runs to Sept. 24. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Deja Borden Army Spc. Joshua Williams, a Washington National Guardsman with Company A, 341st Military Intelligence Battalion, learned two languages at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey in California. In 2005, Williams decided to join the Army National Guard and become a linguist. Coming from a family of service members and always having an interest in other languages, he said, it seemed only natural to choose that career path. Before enlisting into the National Guard, Williams said, he studied several languages, including French, Spanish and German. He was introduced to the idea of becoming a linguist in the military by one his high school teachers, he added. When he first attended DLI, he learned Mandarin Chinese. Though completing the training was no easy task, Williams said, he used his love of languages to finish successfully. “It’s very fast-paced and very demanding,” he said. “I really enjoyed the language itself. Getting acclimated to the pace, it’s certainly no cakewalk.”

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Meet Your Military: Amputee Airman Returns to Duty

support our troops air force amputee PHOTO: Air Force Staff Sgt. Rey Edenfield poses with his wife, Amy, and their two sons, Grayson, left, and Dawson on the front porch of their home, Aug. 28, 2014.MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., Sept. 18, 2014 – His sons say he has a robot leg. The doctors and nurses call it a prosthetic. But to Air Force Staff Sgt. Rey Edenfield, it's what has allowed him to overcome the odds and continue doing what he loves. The picture was taken almost a year after Edenfield was involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in his left leg being amputated six inches below the knee. Edenfield is an air traffic controller at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Erica Picariello Edenfield was enjoying a typical day off in October when a fateful decision took his leg and threatened the course of his career. The air traffic controller decided earlier that morning to spend his day relaxing outside while slow-cooking dinner for his wife and two elementary school-aged boys at their off-base home.

But he underestimated how much charcoal he'd need to finish cooking the meat the way he preferred. "I ran out of charcoal," Edenfield said. "I needed that and a couple of things. I live about a half a mile from [the store], so I hopped on my motorcycle and went to get the things that I needed." The crisp fall air and blue skies made for a suitable day for Edenfield’s ride to the store. He was wearing his motorcycle helmet. "There was a truck turning into the neighborhood," Edenfield said. "I looked behind him and didn't see any traffic. I started creeping out of my neighborhood, and as soon as I got into the center lane, I realized a car was kind of catty-corner to that truck. I had just gotten into that center lane enough to where that left bumper clipped me and smashed my left foot into my motorcycle." The impact shot him into the air and sent his bike skidding on its side across the pavement. "I sat straight up, took my helmet off and threw it out of anger,” he recalled. “I went to get up and looked down and realized that something was wrong." The impact severed the heel from his foot.

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Meet Your Military: Soldier Pursues Passion for Motocross

support our troops us soldier motocrossPHOTO: Army Sgt. Jeremy Hazard rides his dirt bike during the 7th Annual Alaska Supercross Challenge at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska, Aug. 23, 2014.ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sept. 15, 2014 – Crowds cheering, dirt and rocks flying as tires spin and sharp, high-speed turns can make a huge impact on a 7 year old.  U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera For Army Sgt. Jeremy Hazard, an 84th Engineer Support Company (Airborne) wheeled vehicle mechanic, it ignited a passion that nothing else ever did. Thirteen years after witnessing dirt bike racing for the first time, he finally got his chance. “I watched my first supercross during the Alaska State Fair in 2012,” Hazard said, “so I decided to join the Anchorage Racing Lions.” Seeing the off-road terrain and aerial jumps, Hazard said, he wanted to experience what the bikers were experiencing.
 
Desire to experience motocross But a few obstacles prevented Hazard from taking to the track in 2012. His commitment to the military and preparing for an upcoming deployment halted his dream to try out in the motocross race. “I wanted to participate in the summer series when I first heard about it, but was always in training,” he said. “I was deployed from February to October of last year.” But in the back of his mind, Hazard said, he was on the lookout for the next opportunity to join the summer series. After six months of waiting, he finally was able to join the club this year. Hazard started in the "big bike novice" class, and out of the 25 participants, he ended up taking first place in the overall category in the summer series.

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