A Portrait of Exile: Mauricio Hernandez Mata
By Charley Trujillo and Emmanuel Cervantes Mejia
This is the story of Mauricio Hernandez Mata, who serves as one example of the hundreds, if not thousands of deported veterans who served during peace time and times of war including the Vietnam war. The purpose of this article is to share his story and advocate for his rights to his benefits.
Schofield barracks, Hawaii; it was my birthday and I had the day off. My mom called me early in the morning, around five o'clock on 9/11/2001, "Mom," I said, "It's still early. I'll call you back later and I don't have time for happy birthdays." She replied asking, "are you guys going to war?" I didn't think it was funny but asked, "what happened?" I turned on the TV in time to see the tower smoking and then after the second plane crashed, my other line rang and they called in the red alert. I hung up on my mom, kissed my baby and wife goodbye, reported in with full battle-rattle and quarantined civilians visiting on base at gunpoint.
They called all the units in. We were given a briefing, the levels were elevated on base, and everything got stricter. It may sound weird or morbid but I was waiting for my turn. I knew a lot of people were going to die but I was happy to go to war.
I volunteered to go to Iraq in 2003, but I was locked in for Afghanistan in 2004 and I entered Afghanistan with the advanced party. When the main unit arrived in Bagram Air Force Base, a two star general received them and I took what he told us to heart, he said "There are consequences for you guys to be here. You signed on the dotted line and don't expect anyone to be grateful. No one put a gun to your head. Consider yourself a dead man. The sooner you can do that, the better off you're going to be. Look to your left and right and thank the man next to you for his ultimate sacrifice, he's probably not going to be there when you go home." If I wouldn't have taken his advice, I may not be here even after Afghanistan.
I was an 11 Charlie sixty mortar man, eager and obligated to go on over one hundred and sixty of my company's missions. The truth of the general's advice came to fruition when men began losing arms, legs, torsos and their lives mostly to improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
On every mission I always had four to six grenades, at least 6 mortar rounds, six MRE's because I was a big guy, a 64 ounce camel water bag in addition to five water bottles per day and saline solution that I would use as needed.
"I'm going to smash these people and ask questions later." I had a reaction, mainly out of anger and some self-preservation. I didn't think of them in a friendly manner or to free the local population. I was there during the first presidential elections and I saw one hundred candidates on the ballot and everyone checked one box. "That's not democracy. That's manipulation at its best." I knew people who got blown up or were getting sent home and all this turned me into a savage and all I wanted to do is kill people. It got to a point when there wasn't any value, it wasn't fun or dull. It was a surprise to me what the human mind and will, can get used to. I forgot the emotion and the value of another human life unless it was the men fighting there right next to me and when they were killed it was like "sucks to be you guy."
To me, I would like to believe it was America kicking ass for the twin towers and letting terrorists around the world know that we weren't going to take crap. We were going to take it to them with an eleven-year war and do whatever it takes to strike them with the fear of God. Now, I hope and wish that this were true. There are a lot of people who say it was for oil or politics. But war is money; war is an industry. During wartime, someone gets rich and a lot of people die for that. I was there just over a year and I was sober, hating life and became angry when I wasn't on a mission. People don't want to know, Americans don't want to know the things that happen, most want to take liberty for granted. They don't think about the small percentage of Americans of all ethnic backgrounds losing their families because of war.
"Don't worry, you're entitled to all your benefits. As a civilian, that's never going to disqualify you for your benefits." That's what I was told and when I went home, I never worried to look into my citizenship. When deployed, they inquired to everyone's citizenship status and when I asked why they replied, "so you can sign it and when you die, you get your citizenship and hence, a promotion. This is for your citizenship. I believe it is applicable to the oath you swore to the Army." The reason I'm deported is because I didn't die overseas like I was supposed to. I should be a hero, not lost and forgotten.
When I got out of the Army, I was hearing voices in my head and I couldn't look at anyone. I lived by myself, painted my windows black and got rid of all the mirrors because I couldn't look at myself. It was such an extreme, I felt everyone wanted to harm me and I wanted to kill him or her first. My life after the war led me to be arrested for possession with attempt to sell. I did do what they said I did but I paid my debt to society, I served in combat. I didn't think about the consequences and the impact that it would have on those around me and I as a person. For the last ten years I've been dealing with PTSD and the crap that has happened to me. I never took PTSD into consideration or even knew it existed. I went and fought because that's what we needed to do and I say we because I'm an American, I was born in Mexico but I grew up in San Diego, California. I'm not saying I'm owed anything; all I ask for is the benefits I was told I was entitled to.
Emmanuel Cervantes Mejia is the author of "Soledad and the Sea," and "Should I Kill Myself or Have a Cup of Coffee?" Charley Trujillo is Vietnam veteran and the author of "Dogs from Illusion," and "Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam." Both reside in San Jose, California