DVIDS – News – Original Colombian pursues his dream as an army aviator: Part 1

BOGOTÁ – As Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mauricio Garcia and his Colombian counterpart of the security officer, Captain Cristian Castiblanco, walk the flight line at a Colombian army base, inspecting for security risks and violations , he couldn’t help but marvel at how his life has come full circle.

Garcia, a UH-60M Black Hawk pilot and aviation safety officer, is deployed here as part of a Spanish-speaking technical assistance team from the Security Assistance Command training unit, the Security Assistance Training Management Organization, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. .

The Colombian Ministry of Defense is funding TAFT’s five-person team, through an overseas military sales package, to advise the Colombian military on how to run and manage its Advance Rotary Wing School, as well as its aviation safety, procurement, logistics and maintenance programs.

Due to his unique background and life path, Garcia’s official role as an Air Safety Officer is regularly overshadowed by the cultural, linguistic and in-depth knowledge he has accumulated over the past 20 years.

In the beginning

Born in Medellín, Colombia, to working-class parents, he enjoyed going to the local airport to watch planes take off and land, knowing that one day his dream of flying could come true.

“My dad was a transit agent and my mom worked in a beauty spa, so I knew it would be very difficult for my parents to pay for flight school,” Garcia said. “My only chance to realize my dream was to join the Colombian Army or the Air Force.”

At 16 and straight out of high school, he enrolled in the Colombian Officers Academy to prepare him for a career as an officer in the military and, hopefully, in the cockpit of a winged plane. fixed or rotary wing.

Unlike military academies in the United States, students in Colombian military schools have to fund the tuition on their own. In 1999, that was about $ 1,200 per semester, plus Garcia’s cost of living alone in Bogota, where the school was located. Garcia’s parents worked hard to make sure he could stay in school.

In December 2003, after three difficult years away from home, with long hours spent studying military science and dual-track law at the military academy, Garcia graduated at age 19.

He soon found himself assigned as a second lieutenant in an army infantry battalion, contrary to what he expected, leading soldiers against terrorist and insurgent groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known under the name of FARC.

Over the next six years, Garcia did what infantrymen do, taking advanced training such as Counter Guerrilla classes, the Urban Special Forces School, and graduating from the exhausting Lancero School.

Built in collaboration between the US military and the Colombian military, the Lancero school was the result of a request in the mid-1950s by the then President of Colombia, Lieutenant-General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, who asked the US military to help them build an advanced tactics school for their military leaders. U.S. Army Capt. Ralph Puckett, a Ranger assigned to the 65th Puerto Rico Infantry Regimental Combat Team, had the experience and language skills to make it happen.

Puckett and his team led this effort from 1955 to 1957 and built the foundation for what is known today as the Escuela de Lanceros, or Lancero School.

“One of my proudest memories of my time in the Colombian military was graduating from Lancero School,” said Garcia, who still wears this tab on his uniform.

However, after six years in the military, sometimes spending months in the Colombian jungle working on anti-narcotic operations, Garcia knew it was time for a change.

“I left the Colombian army because I never had the opportunity to fly,” he said.

Irony

As Garcia prepared to do a year of community service as a trainee lawyer, a prerequisite for receiving his law certificate, fate presented him with an unexpected turning point when his uncle from Miami, Fla., Invited him in. in the United States to study English.

“I never saw coming to the United States as an opportunity, mainly because I didn’t speak English,” he said. “But I wanted to learn English to better prepare myself for a future career as a lawyer in Colombia.”

In 2007, Garcia moved to Miami to begin classes at a community college. After his Colombian girlfriend visited, they discovered that their relationship would change with an unexpected arrival.

“She comes from a very conservative family, so we got married,” Garcia said. “My wife was an American citizen by birth, and after we decided to stay and live in the United States, I told my wife that the minimum I can do is serve my new home country.”

Even without the language skills he thought he needed, Garcia enlisted in the US military in September 2008, where he spent the first eight months at the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio.

“I passed my proficiency test and was sent for basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma,” he said.

After basic training, Garcia moved on to his professional military training at Fort Sam Houston as a 68J Medical Logistics Specialist, which involved receiving, storing, and distributing medical supplies.

Over the next four years, Garcia served with the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Fort Bliss, Texas, deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, returning to El Paso, and then in 2011 moved the family to Washington, DC, when ‘he took an assignment at Walter Reed’s Army Medical Center.

“When Walter Reed closed (due to a decision to realign and close the base), I had to decide between going to Bethesda or to the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, where I ultimately decided to go, ”he said. “Even after moving to Fort Belvoir and helping to open the hospital in January 2012, I was thinking about getting on a plane and how to get there.”

Discover in Part 2 how Chief Warrant Officer 3 Garcia’s career changed through a chance encounter with an Army Air Safety Officer.

Editor’s Note: On May 21, 2021, retired Col. Ralph Puckett received the Medal of Honor for his exploits during the Korean War.

Date taken: 06.01.2021
Date posted: 06.01.2021 22:17
Story ID: 397879
Location: BOGOTA, CO
Hometown: MEDELLIN, CO

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