Soldier’s journey brings him ‘home’ to Claremont
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
This time of year, many people reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving. For one man the answer encompasses the gift of narrowly escaping death, the opportunity to see his family grow and finally moving to Claremont.
Sergeant first class Rudy Recinos told his story as the keynote address during this year’s Veterans Day observance in Claremont. That speech received a standing ovation and formed the backbone of this story.
Recinos was born in Guatemala, but in the early 1990s his family sought asylum in the United States. They settled in Pomona and Recinos assumed his role in America, much as it was in Guatemala, would be to toil alongside his grandfather. But his family insisted that the 13-year-old’s job here was to attend school and get good grades.
He was grateful to be able to focus on his education but harbored a dream to one day serve in the military.
“Growing up I saw how proudly family members served in the Guatemalan army and now I wanted to have that same feeling,” Recinos said during his speech. Shortly after graduation in 1996 he decided to enlist.
“I went to a recruiting station to join the army but my family’s political asylum status at the time made it impossible to pursue that dream,” he said.
In spite of the disappointment, he redirected his energies toward studying math at Mount San Antonio College with the goal of transferring to Cal Poly Pomona and becoming a teacher. However, his asylum status derailed that plan as well, making it financially impossible to attend a four-year school. Instead, he accepted a job at Walmart.
“My time at Walmart will always be special to me because that is where I met my wife and we began this journey together,” Recinos said.
In October 2002 the couple visited an Army National Guard recruiting office and Recinos learned the rules about asylum seekers had changed. Days later he was sworn in and within two months was off to Ft. Benning, Georgia for basic training.
He served 12 years in the National Guard, eight on active duty, during which he was part of a funeral detail at Riverside National Cemetery and worked at a recruiting station in Moreno Valley. During a one-year assignment at Ft. Irwin in the Mojave Desert, his immediate family relocated to Hesperia.
Recinos’ first deployment to Afghanistan was in 2006 where he earned the title of combat veteran and, due to successes in the field, was chosen to become an instructor for deploying units within the Army National Guard command. However, those missions span only 18 months, so he had to maintain a job outside the Army. In 2008 he began a career with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
“For the next three years I managed to proudly serve in both the armed forces and law enforcement, looking forward to a retirement filled with extraordinary accomplishments,” he said.
In 2011 his unit was activated again to the same part of Afghanistan where he was deployed in 2006 — only this time the mission led to tragedy. The convoy Recinos commanded was hit by a vehicle borne improvised explosive device that claimed 13 lives, including that of his “battle buddy,” Carlo Eugenio. The blast left Recinos gravely wounded with a traumatic brain injury and dislocation of discs in his neck and back. Recovery took three years and seven months, during which time he was separated from family.
“The subsequent years were very difficult as I struggled with the damage that was done morally, mentally, and physically,” he said. “I realized that earning the title of veteran is both an honor and a privilege that comes at a heavy cost. It is important for our community to know that reintegration for veterans may take a long time and mentally they may never leave the chaos of war behind.”
With the help of his wife Maxine, he began to find balance in life and in 2018 realized it was time to leave the high desert and come home.
“It was always our dream to build our lives in Claremont,” he said. “Coming of age in Pomona, Claremont has been a beacon of hope, that has always meant that our kids will have access to a better education in a safer community than the one we grew up in.”
The couple has seven children, among whom two have graduated from Claremont High School and now attend the University of California, Irvine. The others attend CHS, El Roble Intermediate and three different elementary schools.
For Recinos, living in Claremont has improved his quality of life, including cycling the trails among the trees and mountains.
“I want to thank my family for all their love and support. Thank you to my fellow veterans for your selfless service, it is a privilege to stand beside you. And a special thanks to the City of Claremont for this opportunity and for giving me this push to be out here with our community and for reaching veterans who feel trapped in their thoughts and fears. To let them know that there are people within their community who are willing and eager to help. The same community I hope to serve in the future,” Recinos said, closing his Veterans Day remarks.