Marine serves for two homelands
By Sgt. L. F. Langston
| | April 09, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
Steaming toward Peru along Argentina's coastline, the lance corporal prepared to face the same army that killed his fellow Ecuadorian soldiers.
"It was very difficult. I had flashbacks," said Staff Sgt. Erick E. Velez, a Kilo Company senior drill instructor.
Even though Velez was operating with Marine Forces Unitas as a U.S. Marine he once operated as an infantryman in the Ecuadorian army.
While on Unitas, conducting multilateral naval and amphibious operations to promote mutual understanding and friendship, Velez traveled to coastal cities of South America.
Being a translator for his unit, Velez was close and personal with the Peruvian soldiers, stirring emotions and bringing back memories.
Velez's section leader was aware of his plight with the Peruvian army when he was in Ecuador and pulled him aside and explained he was now a U.S. Marine with a different mission, according to Velez.
Velez recalls that time quite vividly.
"It hit me hard. These were the guys that killed my friends," said Velez.
"He was a very confident, hard worker who remained professional during his duties as a translator," said Staff Sgt. Marvin Reyes, crew chief, section leader, 2nd Assault Amphibious Battalion, Company D, 2nd Marine Division.
After the week-long training with the Peruvian army it was off to Ecuador where emotions were stirred once again, but this time they were exciting and positive.
Leaving a wake behind, the ship's course was set to navigate south and arrive in Ecuador.
Velez recalls the Ecuadorian ships standing by to escort the American ship to the city of Salinas and later to the port of Manta.
"It was an emotional moment for me when I first spotted the flag on the ship," said Velez. "It was that Ecuadorian pride for country."
Velez was able to take leave and visit with his family as well as his old unit.
The deployment gave Velez in many ways a sense of appreciation to country, Corps and family.
"I had a good experience. I appreciate life more because of that experience," said Velez.
Being obligated to serve fourteen months in the Ecuadorian army was something Staff Sgt. Erick E. Velez, senior drill instructor, Company K, Platoon 3057, enjoyed.
Velez was born in Santa Monica, Calif., and later moving to Quevedo, Ecuador, at age two. Velez grew up in a middle-class family where his mother was a teacher and his father was a farmer.
Velez and his four brothers and sister were never out of a job working on his father's crops of coffee beans, bananas, and oranges.
The discipline and rigorous farm work paid off when it came time to enlist into the Ecuadorian army.
"I enjoyed it, the discipline, it was something I've always wanted to do," said Velez.
Velez said the one difference between the Ecuadorian army training and Corps training was the live rounds they carried throughout their recruit training.
"Here it's a teaching process with more knowledge courses and better equipment," Velez said.
In the Ecuadorian army each recruit carried a rifle with five magazines filled with 100 rounds. Basic training lasted three months, and at six months they were considered senior recruits. After one year, they were officially soldiers.
"In Ecuador, during our training, our instructors threw us out there and told us to figure it out. The philosophy was to be ready for whatever came along," Velez said.
In his time in the army, he received a combat promotion to corporal and had seen his country in combat against Columbia, fighting drug interdiction and against Peru fighting over territory disputes.
After his time in service, Velez's father insisted he and his brother return to the United States for their safety and well-being.
Velez wanted to reenlist in the army, but his father was the family's final decision maker.
"He was a tough man," Said Velez. "What he said, went. It was a good decision I'm still wearing green."
Returning to the military was Velez's goal.
"Since I arrived here (United States), I've always wanted to be part of the military," Velez said.
His quest to join the military started with the Air Force who told Velez he wasn't eligible because of a language barrier. He then pondered the Navy, which became just a passing thought. Turning to the Marine Corps, the opportunity to wear green once again was bright. One month later, he was stepping on the yellow footprints on Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Velez enlisted with an open contract, and subsequently became an amphibious assault crewman. He admitted he was a little disappointed because he wanted to become an infantryman to mirror his time in the Ecuadorian army.
"I was a little down when I found out what an AAV crewman was, but it all changed once I got to the fleet," Velez said.
Velez is about to complete his seventh and final training cycle and return to the AAV community with 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif.