In 2009, Ivan Sarabia enlisted with the U.S. Army. His basic and advanced individual trainings took place at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. After completing his training as a combat engineer, he was assigned to the 101 Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky. In 2010, Sarabia was deployed to Afghanistan as part of the troop surge in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
What drew you to enlist?
My parents immigrated from Mexico, and as a first-generation American, I always wanted to give back to the country that had given my family so much. I wanted to join right after high school, but my parents encouraged me to attend college as I would be the first one in the family to do so. After graduating in 2008, I still had the itch to serve. I was single and didn’t have any children, so I decided that the time was right to join.
How has your military service influenced who you are today?
I got to meet and become friends with so many people from all over the U.S. with all different backgrounds. Even to this day, we all stay in contact, and I consider them my lifelong brothers — especially the ones I served with overseas.
After the VA helped me transition back to the civilian world, I knew that I wanted to do the same for other veterans. So, I used the GI Bill and went back to school. I graduated from Aurora University with my Master of Social Work in 2018. I was drawn to work as a veteran service officer to not only assist veterans but also their dependents.
When it comes to discussing service with a veteran, what advice would you offer citizens who have not served?
I think the one piece of advice I would offer is to remember the military is one of those places where people from all different places and backgrounds, and for various reasons, join. That is a strength not only to veterans but to the whole of society.