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News | June 9, 2021

Native Colombian pursues dream as Army aviator: Part 2

By Richard Bumgardner U.S. Army Security Assistance Command

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mauricio Garcia, a Black Hawk pilot assigned to the Army Security Assistance Command’s Fort Bragg-based training unit, the Security Assistance Training Management Organization, was born in Medellín, Colombia to working class parents. 

Now, in a multi-faceted military career spanning more than 20 years and the armies of two countries, Garcia’s career has serendipitously come full circle.

This is part two of his amazing journey to follow his dream of flying.

Part 1 recap

As a young man, only 16 and fresh out of high school, he enrolled into a Colombian military officer academy, hoping to upon graduation to join a flying unit when he joined the Colombian Army. 

That never happened. Instead, he became an infantry officer, trained as a Lancero and tasked with leading soldiers in the fight against insurgents that would often find him in the rugged jungles of Colombia for months at a time. 

Garcia left the Colombian Army after six years to pursue a career as a lawyer. In a twist of fate, he accepted an offer from an uncle to live and study in the U.S., to better his English language skills.

While studying at a community college in Florida, his girlfriend visited and shortly thereafter, they found out they would become parents. Coming from traditional families Garcia and his U.S.-born girlfriend were married and decided to stay in the States.

“Once we decided to stay, the minimum I could do was to join the military as a way to give back to my newly adopted country,” he said.

In 2008, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and rose up the ranks as a 68J, medical logistics specialist.

His dream lives on, part 2

In early 2012, then Sgt. Garcia, working at the community hospital at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, decided to continue in his quest to become an aviator. 

Powered by his dream to fly Black Hawks, he spent weeks planning and studying for the Army’s Flight Aptitude Selection Test, his next big hurdle. 

“I bought some books and studied all this pilot stuff, all about flight instruments, it was all in technical English so it was pretty hard,” Garcia said. “But becoming a pilot was my destiny.”

Garcia was surprised he passed the test. Now, to build his warrant officer application package he would need letters of recommendation; at least one had to be from an Army senior warrant officer, preferably an aviator.

Not personally knowing any pilots, he thought there must be some at the Fort Belvoir’s flight line. 

“I actually remember the day he walked through the front doors of the battalion, and I clearly saw he was lost,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Stan Koziatek, the Battalion Safety Officer for the 12th Aviation Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. “I asked him ‘can I help you’ and he said he was looking for a pilot. I told him he was in luck, here I am, and then he told me his inspiring story.”

Over his career, Koziatek had met many soldiers asking for letters of recommendation, but in many cases, he felt they wanted to become pilots the easy way. In Garcia, he saw something different - an impressive life story, and a deep, steadfast passion for flying.

“I was like ‘holy cow’ it wasn’t easy what he did, coming from the Colombian Army, then Special Forces, moving to Miami to do better for his family, then joining the Army and all along he still wanted to be a pilot,” Koziatek said. “I was glad to help him as I saw he was an experienced soldier with a lot of leadership skills.”

Over the next several months, Garcia and his new mentor would spend hours talking and going through his package, fine-tuning every aspect and document to make sure it was perfect.

“I was super excited and went back years looking at statistics and ranks to see if I had a chance to get into flight school,” Garcia said. “Most who got selected were crew chiefs or worked in aviation, so coming from the medical field I didn’t think I had a chance, even though I thought I had a strong package.”

Koziatek knew the hardest part of the entire process was putting the package together to submit.

“It takes a lot of preparation to put in the complete package, some people take almost a year to do it,” Koziatek said. “But Garcia was on it and had his packet ready within months. That’s how I knew Mauricio was dedicated enough to be a warrant officer, because he just didn’t give up, he put 100 percent into it.”

After his package was submitted, Garcia anxiously watched the Army’s MILPER Message site, hoping for good news. One day, after checking the site, he left to take a shower. While he was away, his phone pinged congratulatory messages.

“I jumped on the computer to make sure it was real,” he said. ”I was pretty emotional, I cried.”

In June 2012, Garcia and his family moved to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to start his flight path to becoming a Black Hawk pilot for the Army.

“Flight School is probably one of the most challenging trainings in the Army, physically and mentally; especially when English is your second language,” Garcia said. 

After Garcia graduated from flight school, he was assigned as a Black Hawk pilot in Korea. Two years later Garcia and his family returned to Fort Belvoir, where he served in the same 12th Aviation Battalion, in the same building, that he walked into years earlier looking for a pilot.

For the next several years, Garcia would fly civilian and military dignitaries through the skies of the nation’s capital, accumulating more than 1,000 flight hours. 

In 2020, Garcia accepted a tour as the aviation safety officer on a five-person Spanish-language SATMO technical advising team, tasked with training the Colombian Army to be self-sufficient in their aviation, supply, logistics and maintenance programs. 

His duty location, a Colombian Army aviation base a few hundred miles from his hometown – an assignment to a career that has come full circle.

Reflecting upon the long flight path to get to this point in his career, he credits his parents, a father that lives in Miami, Florida and a mother that lives in Lorton, Virginia, for helping him accomplish his dreams and for believing in him.

“I also really have to say thank you to my wife and kids, for all their love and support,” Garcia said. “I know it has been hard for my kids to move so often and for me to miss so many important days with them. The most important thing I feel is to show them we have to serve our country. With hard work, discipline, and dedication you can achieve all your goals and dreams, so never stop dreaming.”

Garcia also credits the Army for giving him the opportunity to follow his dreams.

“No matter your social, economic, country of origin, or educational background, the Army has a lot of tools and programs to help you to pursue your dreams or goals,” Garcia said. “I am an excellent example of that, and in reality, just one example of what you can achieve in the Army. As a boy from Medellin who arrived in the U.S. 14 years ago, who didn’t speak English, then joining the Army, and four years later I was sitting down in flight school training as an Army aviator.”

Garcia’s story is not over. Within the next five years, he would like to get his master’s degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, retire from the military and then work for the Department of State or Defense in a foreign policy position. He also hopes his story will inspire people to pursue their goals and never stop dreaming.

“Mauricio’s successful military career is an inspiration for others to follow,” Koziatek said. ”I am very proud of him and happy to be part of his success. People succeed when they have fun in what they do; Mauricio loves what he does and it shows.” 

As a Lancero student many years ago, Garcia was taught “For a Lancero, the word ‘impossible’ does not exist.” Over the course of the last 16 years, he has personified that motto. 

Today he is a testament that in the U.S. Army, the “sky is also not the limit!”
 

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