Rick Ojeda-Santoyo and his wife Perla have already gone through the checklist of things to do.
Last will and testament – check. Bills to pay – check. Taking the kids to school – check. However, one thing is left to be done, and that is saying goodbye.
“I think right now specifically, between the government shutdown and all political issues, we have forgotten that there is still a war in Afghanistan,” Ojeda told NBC Latino. “There are still men and women over there. Families are still being separated.”
Ojeda, Gunnery Sergeant for the U.S. Marine Corps, is on his fourth deployment. He is going to Afghanistan for the second time in November.
Staying behind in Tucson is his wife of 15 years and his three children– 14-year-old Vanessa, and 7-year-old twins Ricky and Vicky.
“After the fourth time, on the technical side, it gets easier,” Ojeda said. “Going through the motions is easy. My wife and I, we’re pros at it. On the emotional side, it doesn’t get any easier, in fact it gets harder.”
Currently in his sixth term, Ojeda has served all over the globe in places like Korea and the Middle East. He first enlisted in 1990, took a break for college only to quickly return in 1999.
With Ojeda gone for years at a time, the sacrifices are really coming from the home front. According to Ojeda, his wife “runs the show” when he is gone. He says many are not aware of the heroic actions of the families who stay behind.
“I’ll be lying if I say [soldiers] are not appreciated. People thank me for my services and I’m embarrassed to acknowledge them,” Ojeda said. “But it’s not just what I do abroad. The real sacrifices are what happens at home. My kids are without a dad. I am missing birthdays and Christmases and I don’t complain, but I know I’m never going to get those years back.”
With his twins getting older and his eldest daughter in her freshman year of high school, his children are starting to really understand what it is he does.
“I was in the second grade when he was first deployed,” says his daughter Vanessa.”[The twins] are taking it a lot better than we expected. It affects my brother more than anyone because he’s the only guy and now he doesn’t have a male figure.”
Nevertheless, she says what her father does not only motivates her, but also makes her proud and inspires her to do something important to help people.
Mexican-born Ojeda was raised on the border in Nogales, Arizona, and says he didn’t fully appreciate his Latino roots until joining the Marines. With his family in mind, he continues to serve, proud of his heritage and of the work he does in the U.S. armed forces.
“I didn’t want anyone to ever, ever question my loyalty to my country,” Ojeda said. “I want my kids to say ‘our dad fought for our rights.’