CAMP TAJI, Iraq-Shortly before beginning maintenance on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, Sgt. Alexander Tarazona, from Bucumaranga, Colombia, a Black Hawk mechanic in Company D, 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Division - Center, inspects the aircraft for possible defaults. Tarazona joined the U.S. Army in 2006 after having served in the Colombian Army in the 1990s.

CAMP TAJI - During the 1990s, the internal strife that tore Colombia apart affected the lives of many, including one 15-year-old youth.

In 1993, Sgt. Alexander Tarazona's father was brutally murdered by extremist guerillas, setting Tarazona on a rapid new path which would take him from the Colombian army to Czechoslovakia and finally to his second military destination - the U.S. Army.

The life of the Bucamaranga, Colombia native, who works as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter mechanic in Company D, 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Division-Center, had been normal prior to his father's death; an event which changed his life forever.

"We were very poor, but we were a happy family and very stable," Tarazona, 31, said. "But that was the first major thing that happened to me in my life. They (the army) came and told my mother he was dead."

Tarazona said his father, who worked for the Colombian army as a contracted truck driver, was murdered by a group of guerillas known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

"He went off post in his truck and something happened [to the truck]. He was fixing the tire and he got shot in the head," Tarazona said. "My childhood ended there because my mother was alone. It was a hard moment in my life."

Tarazona, along with his two brothers and mother, struggled after his father's death, but he said he excelled at high school, graduating with honors before joining the Colombian army to fulfill his year of national service.

"When I joined the Colombian army, I was a kid. ... There was a big difference in the way Soldiers were treated [compared to the U.S. Army]," he said. "For example, we went to the range to shoot and, for each one of the 20 rounds you missed, you were hit with a stick. That will remind you that you shouldn't waste any rounds. Everything was mass punishment."

The country was in a state of turmoil in 1995, Tarazona said; something he would have to face during his Army stint.

"In the beginning, it was a little bit tough because at that moment in our history we had the guerillas that were at the height of their powers and were very active," Tarazona explained.

Soldiers without high school educations were usually sent to infantry units, which Tarazona thought he would avoid due to his excellent school record -- something which did not happen.

"What happened to me was the Army was short on people, so they sent me to an infantry unit," he continued. "My unit was something close to the Special Forces. ... I was trained as a sniper and how to patrol."

The threat from the guerillas was an everyday reality and after one close encounter with the enemy, Tarazona decided he needed a new start in his life.

"One day on a patrol, the guerillas stole one of our trucks. We found it and we were happy because it was our truck for getting food and everything," Tarazona said. "We checked under the truck and there was a bomb waiting for us. That was the moment which made me think about doing something else with my life."

Tarazona immediately sought a new direction. Once his Army obligation expired, he applied for a scholarship overseas to obtain a better education, eventually settling in Czechoslovakia, where he would spend eight long years before finally earning a degree in nutrition in 2003.

"The day after I got my diploma, I was on a plane back to Colombia," Tarazona said. "It was very hard for me in Czechoslovakia. The price I paid for that was very high; eight years of my life."

While in Europe, Tarazona met his wife Veronica over the Internet, who he quickly developed a relationship with, one that would lead to him to the United States.

Tarazona said Veronica, who lived in Miami, wanted him to move to the country and live with her. To make this easier, she enlisted in the U.S. Army, which convinced the American embassy in Colombia to give Tarazona a visa to the States.

"I was about to be denied for the visa until my wife showed them her military I.D. card," Tarazona continued. "We got married in Miami and my wife was stationed at Fort Hood ... then she had to deploy."

Tarazona then fulfilled a promise he had made before they were married - to enlist in the Army.

Following his initial training, he was assigned to 1st ACB and eventually joined by his wife, both deploying to Iraq together.

Although Veronica has since left the Army, Tarazona said he is happy with the way things have worked out since moving to the States and joining the Army. Compared to his days in the Colombian army, Tarazona no longer has to worry about being hit for wasting rounds or finding bombs under vehicles.

"My standard of living is a lot higher now, including my family back in Colombia," Tarazona said. "I've been fortunate."

Page last updated Tue February 16th, 2010 at 09:26