Operation Tribute to Freedom

Faces From the Front for August 3, 2009 - Sgt. Teo Garcia

Sergeant Teo Garcia

Current Unit: 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad
Current Position: Command Sgt. Maj.'s Aide
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
Years of Service: 8

Currently deployed to Baghdad with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne, Sgt. Teo Garcia has a more entertaining story than most for why he is serving.

"I lost at a game of pool and here I am," Garcia says with a bit of a wry smile.

Garcia admits it’s an oversimplified explanation for his time in the Army and Iraq, but it always gets a laugh and a number of questions. As a boy growing up in Panama, Garcia knew he wanted to be a Soldier when he first saw an American service member during the U.S. invasion of his country in 1989.

"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 military operation had concluded in January 1990, Garcia and his mother moved to the United States and settled in Miami, Fla. In 1993 Garcia enlisted in the Army 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 as a Bradley driver and gunner, Garcia felt it would be best to leave the Army and head out to the civilian sector. Garcia bounced around from job to job for the next year before deciding to go back to his passion of cutting hair. He became a certified barber and in 2004 opened his own barber shop in Miami.

With his shop, and his side work selling timeshares going well, it seemed like Garcia's life was on a successful path. But tragedy struck in 2005 when his brother was killed in action in Afghanistan. While the pain of losing his brother still weighs heavily on him, he is proud of his brother’s decision to serve.

"I was devastated and disturbed, but proud and honored that he fought for the freedom of others. He was killed fighting for freedom," said Garcia.

In 2007, Garcia was at a crossroads when still dealing with the loss of his brother, he was laid off from the timeshare company he worked for. Garcia got in his car and made the 1,200 mile road trip from Miami to his mother's house in Wildwood, N.J. to try to gain some clarity on his life. It was there that Garcia ran 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 challenged Garcia to a game of pool and made an interesting wager. If Garcia won, King would give him $3,000. But if King won, Garcia would have to rejoin the Army and serve for three years.

"Well you know the rest and that joker hustled me," Garcia 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 again."

Garcia drove back home to Miami and without telling his family rejoined the Army two days later as an infantryman. When he returned home from the military processing station he surprised his wife with the news and left shortly after for basic training.

Garcia is now doing his part to ensure lasting peace in Iraq while currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since 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 looks forward to seeing his 8-year-old son, Teo Jr., and spending time with his family this fall when the brigade is scheduled to redeploy back home to Fort Bragg.

Garcia not only kept his word about rejoining the Army, he recently re-enlisted for four more years of service and hopes to mentor and train new Soldiers in the future in order to share his experiences.

"I have truly come full circle," he said. "This is where I belong."

"I want to make a difference in the lives of others," he finished. "I hope my story and experiences strike them in a profound way."

Telling the Army Story: Community Relations

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