By Ms. Alexandra Shea (IMCOM)June 19, 2019
The U.S. Army is a melting pot of Soldiers from diffrent genders, ages, countries and cultures. Here at Fort Jackson, drill sergeants get an opportunity meet and train them all. Sometimes they meet those who surprise them most.
This was the case for one trainee, Spc. Julian Zuluaga from the Company A, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment.
"It's like watching a movie I've already watched 17 years ago," Zuluaga said. "I feel so lucky to have this opportunity."
Zuluaga reported to Fort Jackson for Basic Combat Training almost 10 weeks ago. He already knew people would see him differently because he was 34-years-old and has a heavy accent. Zuluaga kept quiet about his past until seven weeks into training where he opened up to his drill sergeant who happened to wear a Ranger tab.
"My drill sergeant was very supportive of me, he understood me," Zulaga said. "I look up to him and respect him."
Zuluaga is a product of Medellin, Columbia. At the age of 17, he enlisted into the Columbian army and became a Special Forces officer. Through the foreign military partnership with America, the Columbian army often participates in joint military training within both countries boarders.
"The U.S. Army has always been like the big brother to the Columbian army," Zuluaga said.
Through this partnership he has attended Columbia's version of Special Forces training, diver and urban combat training and attended Lanceros School, which is like the U.S. Army Ranger School. Zuluaga currently wears the Pathfinder, Military Freefall Parachutist and Master Parachutists badges on his uniform, a sight not commonly seen in Basic Combat Training. His resume of military experience also includes 14 foreign jumps wings as well.
"This is actually my third army," Zuluaga said. "I joined the Columbian army in 2002, I served there for 11 years. After Columbia, I worked for the United Arab Emirates army for three more years."
Zuluaga was invited by the United Arab Emirates military to work for the country in an advisory role. He would stay for three years until he married his wife and moved to America to be closer to her.
He has been visiting the United States since a child. Zuluaga has many Family members who reside in Miami, so there was no culture shock when he moved to America full-time in 2015. Once here, he worked as an inventory supervisor for a Dallas-based foods import business for about three years.
"I never thought I would be in the U.S. Army," Zuluaga said. "I was looking for my next step and opportunities to start a new career, but I was always missing something. I don't know how to explain it."
What he was missing was the military community camaraderie and the military lifestyle. He explained how civilians couldn't understand what it is like to wear the uniform and the passions professional Soldiers have for their job.
It was this feeling and the eventual support of his wife that influenced Zuluaga's decision to join the Army. Since he is not a U.S. citizen yet, Zuluaga was only able to enlist in the Army. He had to wait a year after beginning his immigration process before he was able to officially enlist and ship to basic.
Zuluaga was able to officially transfer his Columbian military training and schools to his U.S. Army Enlisted Records Brief, or ERB, after several weeks into his training and with the assistance of his drill sergeant. This allowed him to wear the badges he worked so hard to earn on his uniform during his training at Fort Jackson. His fellow trainees took notice. He used his passion for being a Soldier to mentor them through their training and answer any of their questions.
"I find his past fascinating," said Pvt. Hunter Fields, an 18-year-old fellow trainee from Company A, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. "I try to pick his brain as much as possible to learn from him. He was telling me about Special Forces and it sounds pretty fun."
Fields said he and Zuluaga have grown close in the past nine weeks and will be attending the same Advanced Individual Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, in the field of avionics repair and maintenance.
The two will be joining the ranks of active-duty personnel as they graduate with the rest of their battalion today at Hilton Field then travel together to AIT.
"Being a Soldier is the best thing I have done in my life," Zuluaga said. "I'm going to be a Soldier for as long as I can."
While Zuluaga has many skills and a bachelor's degree under his belt, he will have many opportunities in his future with the Army.
He explained he will have to see how things go with his new military occupational specialty before he decides if he will attend any specialty schools such as Special Forces or Ranger.