Faces From the Front for September 28, 2009 - Spc. Jessica Velasquez
Current Unit: 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad
Current Position: Medic
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Gardena, Calif.
Years of Service: 2
As a daughter to an Ecuadorian mother and a Columbian father, Spc. Jessica Velasquez left her home in Gardena, Calif. to join the Army in order to serve her country and hone her skills in her dream profession of becoming a nurse.
Today, Velasquez is deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and serves as a medic assigned to Company C, 82nd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Multi-National Division- Baghdad. For the 24-year-old Paratrooper, joining the military had always been in the back of her mind.
"I was in Junior Recruit Officer Training School in high school and had always thought about joining the Army but never had the guts to actually do it," said Velasquez.
After high school, Velasquez wanted to go to college, pursue a degree in nursing and go straight into the career field. But after three years of school and completing all of her basic undergraduate classes the then 21-year-old, decided she wanted something more.
One day while shopping in Hollywood, Calif., with a friend, Velasquez said she finally mustered the bravery to walk into a nearby military recruiting office where she was offered benefits that were too good to refuse.
"It all worked out perfectly," said Velasquez. "I needed a way to pay for college so I could get my nursing degree and the Army would provide that. I chose to be a medic so I could carry some of the experience and training I received in the Army back over to my career field."
Even with all the benefits and guarantees the Army offered her for a chance at a promising future, she said her family wasn't as supportive as she had hoped they would be.
"At first they tried to discourage me because they were afraid for my safety, but eventually they gave in and now that I have been in [U.S. Army] for over two years they are very supportive and proud of me," she said.
Velasquez has been in the "Panther" brigade for more than a year now and has been deployed to Iraq since December 2008. As a medic, Velasquez can serve in a number of different roles. Whether it's serving as a line medic during a combat logistics patrol in east Baghdad or working at a health clinic inside her operating base, Velasquez is always ready to provide medical assistance to her fellow Paratroopers.
When not helping her fellow servicemembers, Velasquez is assisting the citizens of Iraq. During a recent combined humanitarian mission in the Baghdad suburb of Salman Pak, Iraq, Velasquez was one of six female medics who visited an all-girl elementary school where they gave out several school supplies and assisted Iraqi medical personnel by conducting several medical screenings and giving health tips to the women and children in the region.
Velasquez said helping the people of Iraq has been the highlight of her deployment.
"The humanitarian mission was my favorite experience in Iraq so far because we got to help out the young girls, and it felt like we were making such a huge difference. It surprised me how friendly the Iraqi people were toward us," said Velasquez. "The news always shows bombings and attacks that are happening in Iraq. You never see the good things we are doing here," she added.
During her spare time Velasquez likes to work out at the gym, watch movies, keep in touch with her family and boyfriend, and cross-stitch.
With her deployment winding down and the 3rd BCT preparing to head home to Fort Bragg, N.C., Velasquez said her service in Iraq has been fulfilling.
"The whole experience has been surreal. The deployment has moved by much faster than I expected and I'm excited to go home," she said.
Velasquez hopes to finish college and one day find a job in the medical field doing what she has always loved to do, which is to help people.