July 02, 2015
by Alberto Bóleres
Independence Day – filled with patriotic traditions like flags, fireworks and picnics – always makes me pause to remember the men and women who have lost their lives while serving our great country. Like me, I know many veterans often think about the ones who didn’t come back. I’m one of the lucky ones.
My service started with the National Guard in 2000 and continued with the Army Reserves seven years later, where I was activated to go to Iraq. One July afternoon, I was driving the truck for the 454th Transportation Company when our truck ran over an IED (improvised explosive device) and flipped over, going 50-60 miles per hour. I lost consciousness but my buddies Nick and Dunn pulled me out of the truck. My head was bleeding, and my shoulder was dislocated. The radio was broken, and so it was an hour or so before we were found. I still go to the VA Hospital almost every month for treatments related to these injuries.
But I’m not done with public service. Last year, I joined the YMCA’s Urban Warriors, part of the Youth Safety and Violence Prevention initiative. The program brings together at-risk youth living in underserved neighborhoods with recent military veterans who serve as volunteer mentors. I can relate to those kids because they are just like me, before I joined the military and because we both have dealt with trauma.
Sadly, 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 do my best to motivate them.
I’m happy when I see a change in their attitudes after graduating from the program.
I’ve served my country. I’ve served my community and now I work for the YMCA. My job is to help recruit more veterans. We need them, and others, to volunteer to improve our communities. I hope everyone enjoys this Independence Day holiday. And, if you see a veteran, shake hands and offer thanks for helping make our freedom possible.
Alberto Bóleres 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.