I Found a Home in Military Green, then Mission Continues Blue

October 16, 2018
By David Riera, Volunteer

Miami’s 1st and Broward’s 1st platoons have two unique things in mind: environmental stewardship and youth development. It is within this cross-sectional focus that the two platoons come together and literally build community, one nail and wooden plank at time.

As a member of this community, I have found strength, not through the force of hands; wisdom, not through the wealth of experience; and kinship, not through the number of bodies. I have discovered these attributes and more, like empathy, kindness and sacrifice through their capacity to accept me as I am.

My Struggle to Find Acceptance

Growing up in Miami as an Afro-Hispanic American was difficult. Both of my parents were immigrants, one from Cuba and the other from Spain, and this is where I joined my first uncommon team of many to come.

My dad, a very learned man, read the following to me:

We came to America. Either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they seen before, to get rid of the things that divided and to make sure of the thing that united.

Woodrow Wilson

I reflect on this quote by Woodrow Wilson a lot with my dad, because this is a deeper understanding and illustration of the American Dream. A dream which many families from all over the world risk life and death to attain, sometimes for themselves, but more often for their children.

How the Military Surprised Me

My father never wanted me to join the military, as he had served in Spain and knew that a military life would a hard life, especially with the history of non-acceptance in the U.S. military from race to creed and from color to sexual orientation.

What a relief it was when I got to Parris Island and everyone was getting screamed at equally!

I learned at that recruit depot that we were all one color green with different shades, from light green to dark green and all the points in between. I didn’t know how I fit in, but I knew that I was on the green line of shades.

Then, I Lost My Green Family

After Iraq, returning to civilian life, I didn’t see the green continuum of shades anymore; I saw racism, ageism, and genderism, discrimination for being disabled (physically, mentally, and emotionally) or of a certain religious, social, or institutional background. I have even felt discriminated for being a veteran.

Losing my community truly obscured my identity.

My New, Blue Family

Three years ago in San Antonio, TX, I felt that identity resurge within me. Instead of a green line, I now stood on a blue line.

And yes, one might think we are Smurfs when we get together. Our sense of community (common + unity) is built during social events and service projects. We are like a lean, mean, green machine–some of us less lean and others a bit more mean, but we all come together to continue the mission. We don’t do this to just accomplish our own dreams, but so that we may help families, friends, neighborhoods and partner nonprofits realize theirs.

As Wilson said, and my dad would agree, we CAN break the barriers that divide us to ensure that things, places, and people stay united.

Now, alongside the nonprofit organization GEN2050, the Miami and Broward 1st platoons restored and rebuilt this community’s garden, a living laboratory for youth discovery and therapy.

I Went from Green to Blue, and You Can Too!

While the places and faces may change, the fact is that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. There will always be a place for you to belong, and a mission to continue.

I invite you and your family to join our Smurfy group of blue-shirt volunteers.

Woman Fashion Designer, Veteran, and Immigrant Turns Challenges into Opportunities

July 31, 2018

Inspired by her childhood in Mexico, Carolina was destined to become a fashion designer with a purpose. Carolina said, “I used to observe my mother making clothes for my siblings and myself. Seeing her transform fabrics into garments intrigued me to the point that it motivated me to come to the United States.”

At the age of 18, Carolina left everything she knew in the hopes of attending design school in the United States. “The simple pleasures that most natives took for granted like simply understanding a movie in English was a daunting task,” she describes.

Thrust into a different culture and language was challenging — but she pushed herself to adapt to her new environment. For five years she worked during the day and completed English as Second Language classes (ESL) at night. Continue reading “Woman Fashion Designer, Veteran, and Immigrant Turns Challenges into Opportunities”

This Is for the Immigrant Veterans Who Inspired My Fellowship

August 29th, 2017
By Jin Kong, Fellow


My name is Jin Kong. I am a husband and a father, an immigrant and a veteran. I am not a rarity, but one of many immigrant stories from my military days.

One friend told me he walked across the Mexico/US border with his mother at a very young age. He was deported then and later came back to the US legally. Another medic was a Southeast-Asian Buddhist who converted to Mormonism and married before our deployment. One of our infantry brothers immigrated from Argentina. He took an injury to one eye in the war while serving as a sniper. He later became a photographer and traversed Iraq while the war was still on, armed only with a camera and a local guide. Continue reading “This Is for the Immigrant Veterans Who Inspired My Fellowship”

Why Are We Losing Our Veterans to Deportation?

May 12, 2017
By Carlos Luna, Fellow

Carlos Luna at Alpha 2017 Orientation

You wouldn’t think veterans, their families, and Gold Star families are being deported — but they are.

What spurred me to speak to Chicago’s City Council about this is a story that’s been in the news recently about Miguel Perez Jr.. Miguel is a United States Army veteran who, after serving time for drug-related charges, is facing the possibility of being deported to Mexico, a country he hasn’t seen since he was eight. He deployed to Afghanistan twice, and has relative experience with combat and weapons. He and his family fear he will be forced to serve cartels and gangs if sent to Mexico because of his expertise.

As a veteran and President of League of United Latin American Citizens – Green Card Veterans chapter, I am driven to talk about this issue. Although we are often led to believe that this is an issue that only affects the Mexican community, the fact is that this fight for justice and equality is one that transcends ethnic differences.

When veterans return home, they are met with unemployment, reintegration challenges, lack of support, and lack of purpose. Because of this, veterans are routinely preyed upon by financial institutions, so-called educational institutions, and, in cases like Miguel, by organized crime for his knowledge of weapons and combat. Continue reading “Why Are We Losing Our Veterans to Deportation?”

Undocumented: How One Word Changed My Life

May 5, 2017
By Nestor Ramirez, Staff Member

Imagine you were barred from legally getting a job, a driver’s license, or if you wanted to go to college, financial aid. This was my reality for many years and it made me fearful and confused. I want to share my story with you to show you the struggles and experiences that led me to find my purpose in life which is to contribute to my community and country.  And I want to discuss how my experiences relate to those of immigrants in America.

I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. And when I was three years old, I was brought to the U.S. by my mother. She wanted a better life for me and my sister but she couldn’t bring us here legally. As a result, I lived the next 20 years of my life undocumented. A few years later my father reunited with us.

When I was seven years old my father casually told me at a family gathering that I was undocumented and that I was different from other people. His words seared in my mind. Undocumented.  How could one word change my life?  I didn’t feel different; I didn’t look different, but I was now set apart. Growing up I had a difficult time resolving in my head that I was undocumented and I was going to be legally barred from getting a job. At the same time, I had people around me encouraging me to do well in school. I remember in 7th grade my teacher told our class: “each of you has the opportunity to go to college and get a good job. You just have to work hard enough.” Continue reading “Undocumented: How One Word Changed My Life”