Prince George’s County vet reflects on serving his country and community

Carlos Ocasio grew up in Puerto Rico and knew from a young age he would go into the military.

"It was something that I always wanted to do. When I was a kid I always was playing with toy soldiers," he said.

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He enlisted in the Army at 19 years old.

"My father went into the military back in the late 60s he went for three years. I always loved the army," Ocasio who retired as an Army Sergeant First Class, said.
The plan was to serve for only a few years.

"Technically I went for three years to go and get some money for college, go back home to Puerto Rico and get back to college. But it never happened. I liked it. I stayed for 24 years," he said.

Ocasio bravely completed several tours in places including Honduras, Korea, Bosnia and German where he led logistics. He did not consider any of the work a sacrifice but a privilege

"Back then travel was one of the advantages they told you of the army. You’d be able to travel and actually I took advantage of it," Ocasio said.

After his fifth tour overseas Ocasio moved back to Puerto Rico.

"I actually left active duty went into the reserves," he added.

But unbeknownst to him, Ocasio’s work in the military was far from over.

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"That’s when 9/11 happened," he said.

Ocasio was sent on a special mission to the Pentagon two weeks after the attacks.

"We came and were looking for bodies or body parts and stuff like that. We went into the E wing and the D wing and we recovered all the personal items that we thought belonged to the people who lost their lives," Ocasio said.

Ocasio said it was one of his toughest missions but he was honored to be there to help.

"By being here we had a sense of obligation to the people who lost their lives to make sure we did the job as best we can. I had a lot of pride being able to be there and do that," he said.

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In the midst of tragedy, Ocasio was given a silver lining. His wife, Nydia who he met while on that special mission in D.C. but in the middle of their courtship Ocasio was sent back overseas.

They married just before he set off on another year deployment, one that proved to be much harder for Ocasio than his other missions.

"That was the ultimate tour I would say. It’s a whole different ball game when you’re in the dessert. When you’re in the middle of nowhere pretty much," he said.

But Ocasio returned alive. After over two decades of sacrifice he was ready to start his new life and focus on his new wife and two stepsons.

"I retired Dec. 1 2008 with 24 years of service," Ocasio said.

After the military he went on to serve his new local community. Ocasio worked his way up in the Department of Parks and Recreation for Prince George’s County. As acting assistant division chief, he helps plan events that serve the county’s diverse population.

"I love what I do. I serve my Latino community in many ways that I can. As a department we change lives for the positive," he said.

Ocasio recently took on another mission, helping other veterans on the newly formed Maryland Veteran’s Chamber of Commerce where he advocates for prevention of veteran suicide.

"I always say one is better than zero. So if there’s one person I can help that would be gratifying to me." Ocasio said.

On this Veteran’s Day he says he’s remembering everyone who served.

"Even though I’m a veteran, I always say thank you. We are all brothers and sisters and it doesn’t matter what branch you are we are all brothers and sisters. Veteran’s Day is always a special day that we can honor all the people who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country to enjoy freedom we have," Ocasio said.