May 25, 2015
by Alberto Bóleres
Memorial Day is a time to remember the men and women who lost their lives while serving our great country.
Like me, I think many veterans often think about the ones who didn’t come back. When I came home after serving in Iraq, I wanted to keep busy, to keep doing things to better myself and benefit my country. I realized there is so much more to life.
My service started in 2000 when I joined the National Guard. I transitioned to the Army Reserves six years later and was activated to go to Iraq. On July 8, 2007, I was driving the truck for the 454th Transportation Company. We were at the back of a convoy of military vehicles, which were spaced apart for security reasons. It was our duty to guard the tail.
All of a sudden there was a big blast. Our truck had run over an IED (improvised explosive device) and flipped over going 50-60 miles per hour. I lost consciousness and later learned my buddies Nick and Dunn pulled me out of the truck. My head was bleeding badly, and my shoulder was dislocated. The radio was broken, and so it was an hour or so before we were found. That was almost nine years ago, and I still go to the VA Hospital almost every month for one thing or another.
But, as I’ve said, I like to keep busy. Last year, I joined the YMCA’s Urban Warriors, part of the Youth Safety and Violence Prevention initiative. At-risk youth living in underserved neighborhoods are brought together with recent military veterans who volunteer and serve as mentors. I could relate to those kids because they were just like me before I joined the military.
What many people don’t realize is there are a lot of smart kids out there—many are in Urban Warriors. It’s sad that because of the neighborhood they come from, they’re often profiled or pushed to the side by society. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did at their age, so I try to do my best to motivate them.
The veterans in Urban Warriors are planting the seeds. We can show our youth how to walk through life, but we know we can’t hold their hands like they’re little kids. I’m happy when I see a change in their attitudes after graduating from the program.
I think adults can make the greatest difference by working to improve society as a whole. In a way, society is raising our country’s children because they often imitate what they see on television or hear on the radio.
I’ve served my country. I’ve served my community and after mentoring three youth cohorts, I work for the YMCA now. My job is to help recruit more veterans. We need them and others to come out and volunteer, if not with the Y, then in some other way to improve their communities.
I hope everyone enjoys this Memorial Day. And, if you see a veteran, shake their hands and thank them for making our freedom possible.
Alberto Boleres is a Purple Heart recipient. He keeps himself busy running a home-based business, attending college and working part-time for the YMCA of Metro Chicago as a veteran outreach worker in the Urban Warriors program.