Robotics Team Member Fights In Afghanistan!

Here is a story that ran in the Az Republic about Oscar Vazquez, a former Falcon Robotics team member that along with three other team member won a national underwater robotics competition in an all university field, beating out MIT in 2004.

Immigrant Oscar Vazquez fought for right to fight for U.S.

by Richard Ruelas - Dec. 27, 2011 11:12 PM
The Arizona Republic

On July 5, a newly minted U.S. citizen, Oscar Vazquez, found himself in a plane over North Carolina preparing for his first jump as a member of the Army’s Airborne unit.
Being in that plane with his Airborne brothers fulfilled a dream Vazquez, 25, had had since he was in high school in Phoenix. The fun part would be jumping. The hard part happened earlier when Vazquez had to get the government to forgive him for entering the U.S. illegally as a child.

It was a year of leaps for Vazquez. In January, he visited a recruitment office and signed up for the Army. He became a citizen at the close of basic training, finally getting the document that had eluded him for much of his life. And he closed the year in Afghanistan, where his Airborne unit would leap into the treacherous mountains near the border with Pakistan.
Vazquez is now serving the country that he battled bureaucratically the previous two years. Shortly after his college graduation in May 2009, Vazquez left for Mexico and tried to re-enter the United States legally. It was a slow, frustrating process. The U.S. government barred Vazquez from returning for more than a year, keeping him separated from his wife and infant daughter.
“I just followed my dreams,” Vazquez said on the phone from the Army’s Fort Richardson, outside Anchorage, Alaska, days before his Afghan deployment. “I just keep pushing. You still go for it.”
Vazquez, who left in late November on a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, said he looked forward to combat, seeing it as a “rite of passage.”
“And part of it is that I want to do something about it,” he said. “I’ll look back and think of 9/11 and (think) there was something done after that, and I was part of it. It was like my little grain of sand.”
Vazquez had wanted to be a member of the Airborne unit ever since watching the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” as a 15-year-old. He joined the ROTC at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix and loved the order and discipline. He continued the training even after learning he couldn’t join the Army because he didn’t have legal papers.
Vazquez came to the United States with his mother at age 12. It wasn’t his choice. He pouted on the seven-hour bus ride from his home village of Temosachic in the state of Chihuahua to the border town of Agua Prieta, Sonora. A man led them to a hole in the fence near Douglas, and Vazquez ran to a waiting car parked at a nearby Walmart.
Vazquez excelled in high school, becoming part of a four-student robotics team that made national news when it beat out several colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At 19, he married his wife, Karla, who was born in Phoenix, and started working on his engineering degree at Arizona State University. He paid out-of-state tuition at the school after a state law was enacted barring illegal immigrants from paying in-state tuition or receiving state-sponsored scholarships. He worked construction jobs and won private scholarships.
Vazquez was one of three graduates singled out for recognition during the 2009 ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium, standing to accept the cheers of the crowd, which included that year’s commencement speaker, President Barack Obama.
Even as he sat there facing the president, Vazquez knew his next step would involve leaving his wife and infant daughter behind. He knew not having legal status prevented him from getting a job that would make use of his degree. He decided to deport himself and re-enter the right way, requesting permission to continue his life in the United States legally.
Because he had stayed so long past his 18th birthday, the law stated he would be barred from re-entering the country for 10 years. Vazquez sought a waiver of the ban.
Vazquez expected it might take a while to return, but he and his wife wanted to do this while their daughter, Samantha, was too young to remember her dad being gone.
The U.S. government twice denied his request. It said it wanted more proof that his absence would cause unusual hardship to his wife and daughter. Vazquez settled in the small town of Magdalena deKino, Sonora, and got a job working the night shift at an auto-parts factory. His wife and daughter would come down a few times a month for visits.
Vazquez’s story of self-deportation appeared in The Republic in July 2010. Ten days later, Vazquez’s wife opened the mail to find her husband’s request for re-entry was approved. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had asked immigration officials to take another look at the case.
“His story is nothing short of incredible,” Durbin said of Vazquez during a November phone interview. “And when he gets back, what does he do? He volunteers to risk his life for his country, a country where many people have not had very positive things to say about him and people like him.”
Durbin told Vazquez’s story on the floor of the U.S. House as an argument for legislation called the Dream Act, which would give legal status to certain immigrants who crossed the border illegally as children. Durbin has introduced the bill in every congressional session since 2000.
“His background was just remarkable in terms of what he had been able to achieve against the odds,” Durbin said.
Legal papers in hand, Vazquez left Mexico and unceremoniously re-entered the United States by walking through the port of entry in El Paso in August 2010. No one was there to greet him. He grabbed some fast food and caught a bus back home to Phoenix.
Vazquez applied for jobs and ended up with an offer in December 2010. But, by then, he had already decided he would fulfill his goal of joining the Army.
“I always wanted to do it,” he said. “Even when I was in Mexico, it was something in the back of my mind.”
He enlisted in January and began basic training in April. In May, during the final weeks of training, his fellow trainees gathered in a conference room to watch Vazquez become a citizen.
It wasn’t a major change in his life, Vazquez said. He had always felt American and still kept the same goals and aspirations.
“Of course, I needed it to be able to do the things I wanted,” he said. “I’m still the same person I was.”
It did bring him some relief. The threat of deportation always lingered as he lived in Phoenix.
“It was something I thought about when I drove around with (daughter) Sammy,” he said. "Every single time.
“Now, it’s just like, OK, I can go anywhere I want,” he said. And with his military credentials, “probably even places you can’t go.”
Vazquez was sent to Alaska, another border state, but with few similarities in climate. “In the winter, it’s a big difference from the heat in Arizona, but you get used to it real quick,” he said.
There was one decent Mexican-food place nearby. For familiar home-cooked meals, Karla Vazquez said her mother mailed up frozen ingredients.
His family lived in a condo on the barracks. But they will move to larger quarters by the time Vazquez returns from the front line. Karla is due to deliver the couple’s second child in March.
For now, Vazquez finds himself separated from his family again.
Last time, it was so he could wage a personal struggle to return to the United States. This time, it is so he can help his country with its battles, something he has long sought to do.
“I’m living my dream right now,” Vazquez said.

He is a true inspiraiton

I saw the article a few days ago, but I didn’t realize that it was about one of your guys. I am very impressed.
I keep seeing Falcons popping up in interesting places, everywhere from Popular Science to the newspaper. I suppose that it’s a testament to the awesomeness of the team.