The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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From Air Force rags to book bags; a life full circle

Daily Sundial

As he walked through the familiar campus, he pointed at the new buildings and parking structures and began to realize the changes that had occurred since he first attended CSUN in Fall 1999.

Scared yet excited, Luis Carrillo, sophomore civil engineering major, said he holds a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish at CSUN. He is returning to school after a three-year service in the Air Force and an overwhelming experience in the Iraq war.

Carrillo was last enrolled at CSUN in Fall 2000. As a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity member, Carrillo said he was more concerned with partying than studying, and he lacked direction.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, Carrillo said he felt inspired to join the military.

He yearned for a sense of purpose.

“I felt I wasn’t doing much with my life back in that time,” he said. “I had to defend (the) country that gave me the life I was living. I wanted to do something that was worth it.”

His parents also influenced his decision to join the military, Carrillo said. He grew up listening to stories of his parents’ military experience in Nicaragua as members of the Somoza military.

“I wanted to make my parents proud,” Carrillo said.

During the time his son was at war, Jose Carrillo – Luis Carrillo’s father – said he felt proud of his son. “I never thought anything negative would happen (to him). I always thought about it in a positive way,” he said.

Jose Carrillo remembers how he and Maria Vazquez, Luis’s mother, met as they both tried to flee Nicaragua.

“It was the last plane (leaving the country), and I saw her a little desperate and nervous. It was July 17, 1979, two days before the Sandinistas took power,” he said.

In January 2002, Carrillo started with his basic training in the Air Force for six weeks. After that he went to trade school to learn military history. Soon after he became an official airman of the 305th Air Mobility Wing.This marked the beginning of his three-year service in the Air Force.

Prior to serving in the Iraq war, Carrillo was stationed in Saudi Arabia doing Honor Guard for a few months. The Honor Guard was a unit assigned to do funerals, Carrillo said.

“That’s where you learned to keep your uniform clean. I had a lot of pride wearing the uniform,” he said. “It might look very simple but it takes a lot of work to do, (it) is something that requires a lot of attention to detail.”

Soon after, Carrillo was transferred to Iraq.

On a typical day in Iraq, Carrillo said, “I would put on my uniform, my boots and go and report for duty. As air transportation you have airplanes coming non-stop either delivering equipment or people.”

His job mainly involved handling air transportation, coordinating air movements, and taking tanks, supplies and even passengers to any given location.

There were many adjustments that Carrillo had to make, and some of them he said he “hated.”

“It was difficult to work with such strong sand storms, but still you had to operate with those obstacles,” he said.

It was uncomfortable; in some places you didn’t have showers or decent food, Carrillo said. For four straight months, he and his unit had to eat Meals Ready to Eat. Tasteless fare, including burgers, pasta and ribs, packed with chalky preservatives that Carrillo said were “nasty” and “just bad.”

Carrillo was discharged from service in January 2005. He was unsure and confused about his future.

“I was lost, I was scared,” Carrillo said, as he expressed his anxieties about coming back to the civilian world. Before he was discharged, Carrillo said he took a two-month preparation course, a service the military provides to its servicemen, to be aware of what was expected of him once he was released.

“Here we have so many choices,” Carrillo said. He said he had lost touch with what this world was, the civilian world, and the challenges this world was going to have for him.

Carrillo said he knew he had to get a job, but his priority was to reapply to CSUN, because he felt he had been gone for so long.

Renee Martinez, recruitment coordinator for civil engineering and computer science, helped Carrillo with his paperwork and class schedule for his first semester back, as his adviser.

Martinez described Carrillo to be at a “mature level with a clear sense of goals.” Martinez also said Carrillo “is not here to waste his time.”

Scherly Virgill, senior philosophy major and close friend of Carrillo, said he has grown considerably since the first time they met at Chatsworth High School in 1996.

“He surprised me when he called about 10 months ago and notified me he was coming back to CSUN,” Virgill said.

“Luis always had energy, he still has energy, but he has direction, a goal.”

He gave himself a pause on his education, Virgill said. “I admired that about him ? he came back to finish what he started.”

Virgill remembers the day Carrillo told her he was leaving school for the military perfectly.

During his service in Iraq there wasn’t much communication between them but she said, “I prayed all the time.”

His service in Iraq changed his views of the world completely.

He admits that on his return from Iraq he went to a mental hospital because he experienced a mental crisis, a common situation many soldiers face on their return from the war after seeing so much tragedy, Carrillo said.

He remembers how a few days after returning from Iraq, while stationed in his base in New Jersey, there were times he would hide under the sink without knowing the reason.

Even today, Carrillo said he hasn’t gotten over that crisis completely.

“I don’t go out as much as I used to,” Carrillo said.

“I feel more secure staying at home on the weekends. I still feel (like) someone is looking at me,” he said.

But Carrillo remains grateful for his experience, the good and the bad, and retains a stronger sense of self.

“Now that I have seen different things in the world, I am able to appreciate life, I’m a disciplined person, because of the experience that the military provided for me.

“I think now I am able to take on a challenge and deliver positive results, because that’s what I learned in the military,” Carrillo said.

The Air Force has a motto that Carrillo said he keeps close to him: “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all you do.”

“If I was to do everything again, I would do it,” he said, adding that the military truly defined who he has become. “They molded me.”

Gabriela Gonzalez can be reached at

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