Spc. Axel Collazo remembers the exact moment he knew he was artistically gifted.

"I began drawing early in my life. I was about five or six when I first picked up a pencil. After learning about Walt Disney, Hanna Barbara and the animation processes, I dreamed of working for a big animation company." Collazo said. "Around the age of seven, I realized it wasn't a phase and became an obsession. It was at that moment I realized I'd be doing this for the rest of my life in some way, form or fashion."

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Collazo says he began to chart a course for life and joined the military. A place he says would provide direction and discipline while providing educational financial assistance to accomplish his dream. Over the course of 15 years, he would serve in the Marines, Army and the Army National Guard.

"I chose to serve because I had a desire to challenge myself and give something back while doing so. Although I was exposed to a military style structure early on in life, I still felt like joining the military was out of my comfort zone. I also feel that outside of your comfort zone is where the magic in life happens. It's where growth takes place," Collazo said.

Collazo deployed to several countries including Iraq and some in Africa. After settling in Florida with the Army National Guard, he injured his knees during training camp and would undergo several surgeries that he calls life-changing.

"I recovered at the Fort Stewart Warrior Transition Unit. The Warrior Transition Program is an awesome program. They gave me the tools to work and deal with in my personal and professional life. The program's cadre and case managers are completely focused on the Soldier's well-being and reintegration or the next chapter in their life," he said.

Spending his entire career as an infantryman, Collazo began thinking about furthering his education, a component he feels is the key to success.

"It's important for any Soldier to have a plan for the time after service. Getting a degree or mastering a marketable skill is the difference between being successful and struggling. As an infantryman, this becomes extremely critical for the limited market in the civilian world for the average infantryman. Remember; poor preparation produces poor performance. It's essential to get an education while you are in the service. This will greatly help your transition to the civilian world," Collazo explained.


While joining the Army National Guard, Collazo earned an Associate's Degree in Visual Communications and Graphic design. As he recovered, he focused on his passion for art. This led to an internship with the 3rd infantry Division Public Affairs Office at Fort Stewart. Collazo produced more than 90 graphics and images in support of information campaigns, community events and stories.

"He is an outstanding person and Soldier. To see what he's accomplished is astonishing. We're very pleased with his work," said Jimmy Walker, Transition Coordinator with the WTB at Fort Stewart.

"This is what I dreamed of doing all my life and to be able to incorporate all I learned while serving my country was beyond my wildest dreams. I wanted a soft skill to complement all I learned in the military. Visual arts also became a healing mechanism for me," he said.

Driven to fulfill a childhood dream, Collazo says completing his goal has a bigger meaning.

"It's my family, namely my son and my amazing girlfriend. This is why I do it, I want to provide a better life for them while making a difference in someone's life."

Collazo will retire later this year.