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Veterans of Atlanta: Jose Salazar

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to international drug busts to the Iraq war, Salazar reflects on more than two decades with the U.S. army

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A DAY’S WORK: Salazar outside Camp Navistar near the Kuwaiti/Iraqi border with two local girls in 2003.
  • Courtesy Jose Salazar
  • A DAY’S WORK: Salazar outside Camp Navistar near the Kuwaiti/Iraqi border with two local girls in 2003.

We finally got orders in June to come back home. We were the longest tenured MP company in theater at that time. When we got to Balad [in northern Iraq], our company was too big so they broke us down into two groups, A-L and M-Z. A-L was flying out, so the rest of us had to wait until the next day. The night before our flight, one of our soldiers was at the PX [base general store] when it was hit with a mortar and he died. The mortar hit the front of the PX as he was coming out. One more night, that's all we needed.

It turned a joyous occasion into one that none of us wanted to deal with. Everybody wants to be happy, but we'd lost Murray [in the tank accident] on Mother's Day and then we lost Mastrapa [in the mortar attack] the day before we were coming home. I didn't do my job in Iraq. I didn't bring everybody home. That was the one job that, in my whole career, I didn't accomplish. Murray's death still hurts me to this day.

In 2007, Salazar returned to active duty as an Active Guard Reserve — a full-time soldier attached to a Reserve unit — in East Point, Ga. While stationed there, he met his wife, Qwynn.

I was doing what was called force protection, physical security, anti-terrorism — a supervisor for the entire command. They were sending out detachments for six-month rotations, but I knew I was never going because I was doing security for the command.

In '08, [I met Qwynn]. She was working in family programs. Then I got promoted to Sergeant First Class. They were ready to move me to New York. That wasn't a good thing. Me and Qwynn had a baby on the way. I tried to fight as much as I could to get out of going, but they said I had to go somewhere equal to my rank and New York was the only place they had an opening.

Qwynn was working for the state [of Georgia]. I didn't want to pull her out of a brand-new job. I didn't even know what I was going to be doing. We talked about it before, when we got together, that this is my career and when they tell me to go I have to go. I had to leave my family down here. It was a sacrifice.

I was up there a total of three years — two years in Long Island and the last year at Fort Totten up in Queens. [My unit was] actually scheduled for deployment in October of 2012. Qwynn and I talked about it. I'd reached my 20-year mark, so I put in my retirement paperwork. It was a tough decision. This was something that I'd been doing for over half my life, something I enjoy, that I love doing. But I also missed my family.

In 2012, Salazar retired from the U.S. Army as a Sergeant First Class after 21 years of active duty and another six years of reserve service.

I'm a VA [Veterans Affairs] police officer and part-time security with the Atlanta Braves. I love both jobs. We're trying to go into another house and grow a bit more as a family. I'm doing some things I do like doing, and that's great for now.

The military made me a better person than I was on track to be. It made me a man and a leader. It helped me to challenge myself to do the best in anything — whether it's at work or it's at home. I have very few friends from when I grew up. I hear about them. Some of them are not with us. Some of them are in jail. Some are actually doing really well. I'll go back to [San Francisco], but it's not a place that I want to be. I'm more aware of the good and the bad in the world. I know where the bad is, and I avoid it.

You think I'm a little old fuddy-duddy sitting at home? Well if that's what you call it, knock yourself out. I'm happy with it.

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