Wounded Warrior on the Rise
Orlando Isquierdo: Army Strong and Now a Jaguar
For nearly two decades, Orlando Isquierdo served his country in the Army and the National Guard. Now years later, Isquierdo explains how South Texas College has become a family tradition.
It’s no surprise that Orlando Isquierdo chose to make his career in the military when he joined the Army in 1987. After all, his father had previously served in the National Guard. Orlando’s older brother would also later serve in the Marines and his younger brother in the Army and National Guard.
“In those first few years, I was a tactical satellite system operator,” Isquierdo recalled. “Think of it like a portable Ma Bell. We set up telecommunications from wherever we were, so we always had a reliable, secure line to the U.S. via satellite.”
For 19 years, Isquierdo proudly served his country in both the Army and the National Guard, sometimes stateside in Texas and Arizona, and for many years overseas in South Korea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and various parts of Central America. He took on various jobs in signal communications, often enrolling in new military programs to further his skills. It’s a life he would have gladly continued, had fate not stepped in to derail his plans.
“Back in 2006, we were flying a C130 back from a mission in Iraq,” he recalled. “It started to get very hot inside the plane, and the cabin filled with smoke.” To this day, he’s not sure exactly what the problem was, but the pilot was forced to make an emergency crash landing. He survived, but his injuries were serious. “My neck, both knees, my back…all were hurt.” He was immediately taken to a local Army hospital, and after a couple of days, he was medevacked to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. A month later, he was taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and finally arrived at Fort Hood.
Despite the severity of his injuries, Isquierdo longed to be back in uniform. “I couldn’t fathom not being there with my men and seeing our mission through to the end,” he said. “I had planned to stay in the military until I retired at age 60.”
During the three years he was recuperating, Isquierdo taught ROTC classes at the University of Texas Pan American while earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and undergoing long physical therapy sessions. Finally, in 2008, he was medically discharged with the rank of sergeant major after 22 years of service.
Becoming a Jaguar
Back home with his family in Pharr, Isquierdo yearned to be more productive. “It was really tough being discharged. I wanted something to occupy my mind,” he said. Strangely enough, it was a faulty air conditioning unit that kick-started the next chapter of his life.
“I kept paying my neighbor to run over and fix it, and it turned out to be simple repairs each time. I realized that if I had the skills to do it myself it would be very helpful.” So, armed with his military tuition benefits, Isquierdo went looking for those skills. He found them at South Texas College, where many of his family members had attended college. For Isquierdo, STC was also a family tradition.
His first order of business was contacting the Veterans Affairs office on STC’s Pecan campus.
“They were so helpful with assisting me in getting my paperwork [in order] and understanding my benefits,” said Isquierdo, who enrolled in the electrician technology program. “Plus, they have a great program called PASS, which provides the textbooks for technology classes at no cost.”
The PASS program provides support and services to students in career and technical education programs to assist them in completing their educational goals.
Despite lingering pain and daily physical therapy, Isquierdo now proudly holds an apprenticeship electrician license. He’s continuing at South Texas College to earn his Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) certification, which will give him expertise in the servicing, repair, maintenance and installation of heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment.
Most importantly, he’s striving to be all he can be despite his setbacks, and it’s the skills he’s learned at South Texas College that will help him on the first leg of that journey.
"I realized that if I had the skills to do it myself it would be very helpful. They (STC) were so helpful with assisting me in getting my paperwork [in order] and understanding my benefits. Plus, they have a great program called PASS, which provides the textbooks for technology classes at no cost.”
Educational Benefits for Military Members
Military veterans, active duty, and reservists may be eligible for financial benefits to use toward advancing their education and skills. There are also benefits available for dependent students that can assist with tuition and other expenses.
Because there are many different government programs available and each depends on your status, knowing the ins and outs of each program can be tricky. The Office of Student Veteran Affairs is available to help.
“We assist students with appropriate information and a detailed checklist for each of our VA benefits, including links to websites where they can apply for benefits,” says Erika Garcia, Veteran Affairs Certifying Official. “We’re proud to mention that South Texas College has been named among the top 10 Military Friendly Schools nationwide.”
If you believe you or a family member may be eligible for benefits through the military and are eager to further your education, contact one of the offices below and ask for a Veteran Affairs Certifying Official.
Veteran Support Center
Veteran Support Center
Starr County Campus
Financial Aid Office