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Initial Impressions

 

Written by Spc. Michael Vanpool
101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs

101st Sustainment Brigade - LifelinersFort Campbell KY, 101st Airborne Division

Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan – Growing up in El Salvador, Spc. Francisco Javier Fuentes’s days were filled up a few hours of school and many more working the fields. As he harvested the corn and fruits or took the crops to sell in the city, Fuentes remembers seeing the Salvadoran armed forces walking the streets and keeping the country safer.

He followed the boot steps of the cammo-clad soldiers of his childhood, years later in the U.S. Army.

After more than five years wearing the uniform, Fuentes took an oath and became a U.S. citizen at the Joint Sustainment Command – Afghanistan Naturalization Ceremony, September 28th.

Spc. Francisco Javier Fuentes (background), a command group driver for the 101st Sustainment Brigade, joins the other soldiers and recited the oath to allegiance to become a U.S. citizen at the Joint Sustainment Command - Afghanistan Naturalization Ceremony, September 28th. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool)

Spc. Francisco Javier Fuentes (background), a command group driver for the 101st Sustainment Brigade, joins the other soldiers and recited the oath to allegiance to become a U.S. citizen at the Joint Sustainment Command - Afghanistan Naturalization Ceremony, September 28th. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool)

“Every since I was five years old, as long as I remember, I remember the El Salvadoran soldiers patrolling the streets and trying to keep order against the guerrillas and the gangs,” said Fuentes, a command group driver for the 101st Sustainment Brigade.

“I always saw how everyone respected them. And I saw that, and I wanted to be someone that makes a difference and try to put order and maybe make a change,” he said.

The Salvadoran Civil War ended in 1992 after 12 years, but soldiers were still mobilized in the years after to combat the gangs that ran rampant through the country.

In 2000, Fuentes, his brother and his sister left behind the corn and watermelon fields to join their mother in Arizona. The three siblings moved to America as residents after their step-father, a U.S. citizen, adopted them.

Along with his brother and sister, Fuentes jumped into school in Gilbert, AZ, learned English, and joined the high school sports teams. When he graduated high school, the options were open to continue playing sports in college with scholarships.

However, the images of his childhood remained in his mind, and he chose to wear camouflage instead of jerseys.

“There was a lot of pride and everything when I first wore this uniform,” Fuentes said. “It meant a lot for me. I wanted to wear the uniform ever since I can remember. It meant a lot.”

More than five years after first putting on the uniform, two combat patches can now be worn under his American flag. Fuentes deployed to Baghdad in 2007 with the 82nd Airborne Division for 15 months. At Camp Victory, Iraq, Fuentes saw the Salvadoran Army, who was mobilized to Multinational Force–Iraq, and talked to one of their generals.

“He asked me how I ended up in the Army and what motivated me. I told him my life story and how I saw the Army growing up,” Fuentes said. “To see someone from your own country, some you wanted to be like as a kid, it was pretty awesome.”

Now, he is finishing a yearlong deployment to Bagram Air Field with the Lifeliners.

Just a few weeks before returning to Fort Campbell, he stood in front of the soldiers he served with this past year and recited the oath to become an American citizen.

“It’ll be something else to go through to the naturalization here than in the states because you’re actually doing something special for your country,” he said before the ceremony. “It means more than just being a citizen. I served the country, and I’m just proud to be in the U.S.”

In about a month, Fuentes will be reunited with his daughter and family, and he looks to the future returning to the 82nd. Further down the line, he plans to visit El Salvador again.

“It’s been about 12 years since I’ve been there, and I’m sure it’s changed,” he said. “It would be something else, it would be something special to go back and see where I grew up and where I came from. Hopefully, I can take my daughter whenever she is able to understand a little more.”


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