By Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Brown
26th Marine Expeditionary Unit
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Dec. 13, 2013 – A college student who was struggling to balance his academic life and his responsibilities as a parent found the balance he needed in the Marine Corps.
Velez expressed his passion for his job with a smile. His brown eyes stared upward as he recalled tinkering with computers as a child.
“I’ve always loved computers,” he said. “When I was a kid, I used to take them apart and try to figure them out. The thing I love about it is there’s always something new. There’s always a challenge and something to learn.”
Throughout his deployment with the 26th MEU, his skills and contribution to mission success afforded him recognition in the form of the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Marine Corps Sgt. Leonardo Avila, an Ozark, Ala., native and radio operator with the 26th MEU, was Velez’s first noncommissioned officer in charge, and he has become a mentor and close friend. The two Marines provide each other with support and advice.
Avila said he recognized Velez’s potential right away, noticing his maturity and his ability to take every responsibility seriously and accomplish tasks efficiently.
“Velez always does what it takes to get the job done,” Avila said. “Marines go to him for help, because they can tell he’s good at what he does.”
Velez helps to keep the 26th MEU’s computer and Internet capabilities running, and Avila said he gets much of his motivation from being a father.
“He works so hard because he supports his son,” he said. “He loves his son and always puts him first, before anything.”
Avila said he and Velez share parenting advice, and he tries to mirror Velez’s concern and sacrifice for his son with his own children.
“The hard part is I’m not there with [my son],” Velez said. “He’s back home with his mother in Connecticut, and I wish I could be there for him more often.”
Velez said his work schedule, deployments and distance from his son combine to limit opportunities to be with him. But that sacrifice makes him successful in his career, he added, which allows him to provide support for his son.
“I’ve only been to one of his birthdays and a couple of holidays, but he knows I love him, and he’s starting to understand what I do,” he said.
“Velez is a good Marine and a really great dad,” Avila said. “He really loves his son, and I am really proud of him as a leader. He’s become more than just a friend and fellow Marine. He’s a brother to me, like he’s part of my family, and I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished.”
Velez said he does not intend to re-enlist, and that he plans to pursue further work in the computer and data systems fields upon completion of his contract with the Marine Corps. He plans to save the benefits of his GI Bill to pay for his son’s education, he added.
“I want my son to be successful,” he said, “and I want to do what I can to make that happen.”
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