One-time Soldier, barber rejoins service after losing pool game to friend
July 20, 2009
BAGHDAD -- When most Soldiers tell others why they joined the Army, many stories are similar. Many join right out of high school, some do it for the benefits and others do it to improve or change their lives.
But when Sgt. Teo Garcia, currently deployed to Baghdad with the Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, tells his Army story the answer is simple, "I lost at a game of pool and here I am."
To know the whole story, most people have to sit down, grab a drink, and hear the story from the beginning.
As a boy growing up in his native Panama, Garcia knew he wanted to be a Soldier when he first saw an American servicemember during the U.S. invasion of his country in 1989.
The invasion dubbed "Operation Just Cause" was spearheaded by U.S. Army Rangers of the 75th Ranger Regiment and American Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne in order to root out Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, defend democracy and bring human rights to the people of Panama.
"Seeing those men on the ground and talking to the people really influenced me," said Garcia. "I saw how they changed our lives, and it made me realize that I wanted to do the same for others."
Soon after the U.S. invasion had concluded in January 1990, Garcia and his mother moved to the United States and bounced around until they settled in Miami, Fla.
In August 1992, Garcia would see the Paratroopers of the 82nd Abn. Div., once again to bring humanitarian assistance and restore order on the neighborhood streets of South Florida following the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.
Like most people who survived one of the most devastating natural disasters to hit the U.S. mainland, Garcia was one of thousands in the area affected by the storm. But seeing those Soldiers make a difference to his community made him want to join even more.
So in 1993 Garcia enlisted in the service as a mechanized infantryman. After training, he was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division based in Fort Hood, Texas. Soon after arriving to his unit, Garcia and his comrades were alerted to deploy to Kuwait in support of "Operation Intrinsic Action" in 1995 in order to deter Iraqi aggression against the nation of Kuwait.
For the next eight months, Garcia lived in the sprawling deserts of the tiny nation. Although the living conditions were less than favorable, Garcia loved the camaraderie among his fellow Soldiers and became the unit's barber. He says cutting hair relaxed him during the stressful deployment.
"Times were hard, but I made a lot of good friends and had some good experiences, especially when I was cutting hair," he said. "There is something that relaxes me when I cut hair and I love to see when a Soldier has a fresh hair cut."
After six years of being a Bradley driver and gunner, Garcia felt it would be best to separate from the service and head out to the civilian sector. It is a decision he does not regret to this day, but adjusting to life in slacks, instead of Army greens was not easy for him.
"I needed to do something different and I was tired of being away from family and friends," said Garcia. "But it was hard to for me to adapt to civilian life, and I missed that brotherhood I had with my friends in the Army."
Garcia bounced around from job to job for the next year before deciding to go back to his passion of cutting hair. So he enrolled in a barber school and became a certified barber. In 2004 he and his friend took his profession to the next level and opened his own barbershop which he named "Scissors and Clippers" in Miami.
His shop, along with selling timeshares, it now seemed like Garcia's life was on a successful path. But tragedy would strike the Garcia family in 2005 when his brother was killed in action in Afghanistan. While the pain for losing his brother still weighs heavy with him, he is proud of what his brother was doing for his nation.
"I was devastated and distributed, but proud and honored that he fought for the freedom of others. He was killed fighting for freedom," said Garcia.
Times would get harder. In 2007, Garcia was laid off from the timeshare company he worked for. Trying to run away from his problems, Garcia got in his car and made the 1,200 mile road trip from Miami to his mother's house in Wildwood, N.J., where he would stay for the next month in a state of confusion.
It was there that Garcia would run into an old buddy from his Army days, Jeffery King, a recently retired Army first sergeant at a local bar in Wildwood.
After reminiscing of the old days, King asked him if he had ever thought about rejoining the Army. Garcia's initial reacting was instant. "Hell no!" he said. "That is not for me, those days are behind me."
Trying to convince Garcia about a second run at military service, King then challenged Garcia to a game of pool and made an interesting wager.
"Jeffery told me to play him in a best out of three games in pool, and if I won he would give me $3,000. But if he won, I would have to rejoin the Army and serve for three years."
"Well you know the rest and that joker hustled me," he said laughing. "I thought I could take him, but it is the best bet I ever took because he made me realize that I was missing something in my life. I missed being a Soldier and I found myself."
Garcia drove back home to Miami and without telling his family rejoined the Army two days later an as infantryman. When he got back home from the military processing station he told his wife the news.
"She did not believe me and thought I was joking around," he said. "I think she realized I was telling the truth when I was packing for basic training."
After completing basic, advance individual training and airborne school, Garcia was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he knew a deployment to Iraq was not far away.
Today Garcia serves in those same ranks as the men before him who brought freedom back to his native country and clean water and food to him in his adopted home of Miami. Garcia is now doing his part to ensure lasting peace in Iraq currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"I have truly come full circle," he said. "This is where I belong."
Since being deployed to Iraq in late-2008, Garcia has served as a member of the brigade's command group ensuring senior leaders of the brigade have the support they need to focus on the mission and lead troops. Garcia is well-known in the brigade's headquarters for cracking jokes, telling outlandish stories, and being an all-around character who brings smiles to the faces of his fellow comrades. For those troopers who need a haircut, his clippers are usually not too far away.
Garcia not only kept his word about rejoining the Army, he recently reenlisted for four more years of service and hopes to mentor and train new Soldiers in the future in order to share his experiences.
"I want to make a difference in the lives of others," he said. "I hope my story and experiences strike them in a profound way."