Carlos Castillo – Serving – Evolving – Enduring
Written by Karen Rieser
Feautre Photo by MIke Banno – Forward Exposure
United States Marine Corps Veteran Carlos Castillo always sensed he had it in his heart to serve others. As with many young people, he spent a great deal of time contemplating how to serve and what path he would take to fulfill that need.
As a young adult, Carlos found his interests leaning toward law enforcement. Earning a degree in Criminal Justice and then graduating from basic police training. Unfortunately, at the time of Carlos’ graduation, law enforcement jobs were few and far between. Not wanting to stray from his dream of serving, Carlos looked for other ways to enhance his resume, so he decided to join the United States Marines Corps. However, with the events of 9/11, Carlos’ purpose for becoming a Marine changed quickly from beefing up his resume to wanting to serve his country and protect his family. In his words, “if not me, then who?”
Carlos served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 and 2007. He was deployed to Al Anbar Province, Fallujah, Iraq. The desert environment presented a unique set of circumstances; the heat, sand, winds, and scenery were new experiences. He began as an 0311 Infantry Rifleman and was later selected to serve with the Military Transition Team, MTT Brigade, as personal security for U.S. Military personnel and foreign leaders.
During his service, Carlos experienced both positive and negative aspects of deployment. As with many service members, being away from home was very difficult; for Carlos leaving a newborn son behind was particularly painful. In addition, he endured losing brothers on the battlefield, one of whom was a very close friend.
On the flip side, Carlos was honored to serve alongside noble men and women from the United States and Foreign Service. He was also fascinated by the Iraqi culture and traditions, many of which were like his Mexican culture. Carlos enjoyed learning Iraqi history and observing the country’s unique beauty still visible under the rubble left by war.
A major challenge for Carlos came upon his return home. He came from an environment of battle, destruction, and tension. In Carlos’ words, this took him “to a very dark place.” While experiencing this darkness, he arrived at a “pivot point moment” during which he realized he needed help. After extensive searching, Carlos eventually learned how to cope with his struggles. He became increasingly familiar with Veteran resources and finally found his new purpose, his new mission.
Carlos’ continuing desire to serve others next led him on a path to support other Veterans experiencing readjustment issues after their service. He has been serving the Veteran population since 2014 and continues to do so.
In September 2020, Carlos began working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Grand Rapids Vet Center, serving as their Veterans Outreach Program Specialist. In this position, he leads outreach efforts in his service area, covering 15 counties in Michigan. As a community-based readjustment counseling center, services are provided to those who served in a conflict, area of hostility, Guard, and Reserves.
Carlos is honored to be able to serve his fellow service members and their family members. He remembers all too well his search to find resources or someone genuinely interested in helping him during his struggle and eventually helping him find his path to getting back on his feet.
Carlos feels he still has work to do for himself; healing is a process. He has found that professional counseling and Veteran to Veteran support has been most helpful for himself and others. The understanding of military experience is a huge aspect of serving today’s Veteran population. He puts it perfectly, “I enjoy being that pivot point and giving the Veteran and/or family members hope. I enjoy working with Veterans and helping them navigate resources to get the help they need. (Giving)…that possible last chance effort and reaching (out) my hand to help that Veteran get up (is very rewarding).”
Carlos’ advice to Veterans and their families is that for some, the war doesn’t end when they leave the battlefield. For some, it starts when they return home, and “it is one hell of a fight to fight alone.” He encourages anyone in this position to utilize community resources, find what works for you, connect with a support group, and stick with it. Carlos has experienced and knows what it was like to deal with the darkness alone.
Today, Carlos promotes seeking help, researching what resources are in your area, connecting with other Veterans, and talking to a professional. In his words, “What can it hurt…”
Carlos’ heart must be fulfilled as he is now playing a significant role in serving his military community, which in turn serves his country and continues his mission.
Carlos dedicates his work to the men and women past, present, and future of the U.S. Military. He works for the warriors he has known and has served with who have paid the ultimate price…
His message for them:
“Fair Winds and Following Seas… and Semper Fidelis.”