Sgt. Milton Oviedo relates to potential recruits through personal experience.
A recruiter for the Arkansas Army National Guard, Oviedo was born in Los Angeles. His family moved to Rogers, Arkansas -- tucked in the northwest corner of the state near the Oklahoma and Missouri borders -- when he was young. They returned to Mexico in 2010 after Oviedo's parents, who were undocumented, were deported.
The family struggled. Basic necessities, such as food, were scarce. Oviedo slept on a mattress without a frame.
"We basically had to start from zero,'' he said.
Enticed by the prospect of a free education, Oviedo, 23, enlisted on Nov. 22, 2016. He has been a recruiter for 1½ years.
When recruiters open up to potential enlistees, they humanize themselves, put an applicant at ease and increase the likelihood that a bond will be formed.
"We refer to our recruiters as 'life changers,' and we encourage them to share their unique Army story -- why they joined, why they continue to serve and how the Army has changed their own life,'' Lt. Col. Whitney Jensen, commander of the New York City Recruiting Battalion, said via email. "It is only through authentic conversation that potential applicants can learn what it truly means to become part of the Army team.''
Originally from the Philippines, Staff Sgt. Archie Arboleda, a recruiter in the NYC Recruiting Battalion, 1st Brigade, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, immigrated to Los Angeles when he was 25 years old. Despite working as a caregiver, he was barely surviving and did not have enough money to buy a car. Lacking education, Arboleda turned to the military.
He enlisted in 2010.
"I realized that the Army is offering free education and a lot of benefits, to include my citizenship,'' said Arboleda, 38. "So that was the main goal -- to get an education and citizenship.''
Service members can apply for citizenship if they have been in the military for at least one year, pass a civics test and can read, write and speak English, among other qualifications.
Arboleda, who became a U.S. citizen in 2011, studied to become an automotive technician.
Both he and Oviedo, who is pursuing a civil engineering degree and will attend the University of Arkansas this fall, said the military changed them -- and can change others.
"A lot of Hispanic kids would relate because maybe some family members, maybe they are going through the same scenario that I went through,'' Oviedo said. "My story would encourage them. They would feel like, 'It's not just me. Someone else has been through the same thing, and they're a success.'''
Arboleda appreciates the pivotal role that recruiters can play in an applicant's future. He recalled meeting a doctor from Nepal who couldn't practice medicine in America because she was not a citizen. Arboleda guided her through the enlistment process. She obtained her citizenship and is studying at Liberty University in Virginia, he said.
Oviedo shared a story similar to his own. He recounted teaching a recruit, whose parents were undocumented workers, how to file taxes.
"I have recruited in my own image with every single individual that I've put in the Guard,'' Oviedo said. "That way, I inspire them to grow.''
Arboleda became a recruiter eight years into his military career. When he assumed that role, he didn't forget the person who recruited him.
He emailed Sgt. Frank Hernandez IIl.
"[It] said, 'I'm so thankful that you've given me this opportunity, and thanks a lot for your help,''' Arboleda said. "He changed my life a lot.''
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