Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 30, 2009 - A 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, maintenance technician deployed here found his freedom in the United States and now fights so that Iraqis may enjoy what he has come to cherish. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Orellana of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team was born the son of a successful politician in El Salvador. Life was good, he said, as he went to good schools, dressed well, ate well and strove to excel in his studies for the sake of his father's pride. But his privileged lifestyle was taken from him at a painful price.
"Life changed for me very quickly in 1983," he said. "I was 13. One day my father came in and told us to pack our stuff, because his political party had lost the elections. Next thing, we're running away from the house, and my father got abducted for about 15 days."
Orellana explained that the political climate in El Salvador at the time was dangerously volatile, and members of the fallen political party often had to flee for their lives after elections.
After anxiously waiting, the Orellana family received an anonymous call early one morning telling them where his father was. They found him dead after having been brutally tortured. Young Orellana's world, which had begun to topple, was now shattered.
"My priorities in life changed," he said. "I was into revenge: getting back at the bad guys who did that to my dad and split up my family when everybody fled. The main thing after graduating high school at 16 years old was to join the [Salvadoran] military so I could pay them back. It was purely rage and hate motivated.
"It's funny, because you have plans in life to be this or that," he continued. "My father never wanted me to be a soldier. He wanted me to be an intellectual."
A few years after joining the military, Orellana was wounded.
"I got shot in one of the operations," he said. "I was paralyzed for a time. The doctors believed it actually hit my spinal cord. I got hit in the pelvis, and the bullet bounced up about an inch off my spinal cord. Thank God he saved me from that one. It was an experience."
After he recovered, he said, he turned his eyes back to re-entering the Army to continue his quest for vengeance. It was 1989, and his mother had a business in Florida. She convinced Orellana to go to the United States, at least for a time, to think about his options rather than going back to into the Salvadoran army.
"She was right," he said. "I came to the states and started going to school and started learning about history. The more I read, the more admiration I had for the United States. I started thinking that if I am willing to put my life on the line for a country that can't get straight because [it] keeps on changing power, how much can I do for a country that endorses the freedom that any good human being in the world is craving? I got intoxicated with freedom. I made the States my country. All the freedoms that we have are just amazing."
Orellana joined the U.S. Army in 1992 as a fuel and electric repair specialist, and after working his way up to the rank of sergeant first class, he became a maintenance warrant officer in 2004.
He said the differences in the two armies in which he's served have amazed him.
"This Army doesn't [focus] on how weak you were before," he said. "It is focused on what you can do now and later." He said the American Army is strong because it lets its soldiers be strong and improve for their own sake as well as the Army's. "It's a wonderful Army. It respects human rights [and] opinions," he said.
From the start of his time in America, Orellana said, he began changing rapidly, letting his old hatred and drive for revenge begin to fade.
In America, he also found his faith in God, and started his own family with his wife, Julie. They have two daughters, Theresa, 7, and Isobel, 3. They now call Killeen, Texas, home but currently live in Fountain, Colo.
Orellana deployed in 2003 with the push into Iraq and operated in Fallujah. In 2005 he was sent to Najaf and Kalsu. This is his third deployment to Iraq.
Orellana spends time almost every day speaking with the Iraqis from around the area. He drinks chai tea and eats with them often, sharing talk about topics that span from their families to the development of Iraq.
"When you see the progress, it helps you feel good," he said. "These people have suffered so much, and for them to get more freedom, it's worth it."
Being a soldier is not just a job, he said.
"It's a commitment," he said. "If you don't see it as a commitment, you're not going to be good at it. It's up to you what kind of impact you want to make."
He expressed confidence in his hope that after coalition forces leave Iraq the Iraqis will live in peace and their freedoms will blossom.
"When you hear them tell you it's better now for the Iraqis, for the kids, and there is more freedom, it makes it better," he said. "You kind of get choked up a little bit, because you start thinking: I'm part of it. I'm helping to bring freedom. And that is priceless."
(Army Sgt. Rodney Foliente serves with the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)