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San Jose residents have an opportunity to honor all veterans, who have served in the military, during the annual Veteran’s Day parade that will be held on November 11 in the downtown area.

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For those recognizing Veteran’s Day this week, many will be honored for the first time, including San Jose native Abraham Casarez.
For 29-year-old Casarez, joining the military was something he always wanted to do but it wasn’t until four years that he finally made the life changing commitment.

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“I’ve always been patriotic,” said Army Specialist (SPC) Abraham Casarez. “I will always love this country and appreciate everything it has done for me.”

Casarez was born on June 21, 1983; he has 2 sisters and 1 brother. He was raised in San Jose where he graduated from Independence High School.

Soon after graduating, Casarez checked out the Army for the first time but decided to play hockey, and left for Canada for a year after making it on a Canadian team. After his return he started working full time. He was barely getting by and school was not even thought about because he couldn’t afford it.

With a supportive girlfriend at the time (now his wife), Casarez ultimately decided to join the military and left for basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky in October 2008. Soon after he was sent to Maryland for advanced individual training. He eventually was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky for a little over a year before deploying to Afghanistan in July 2010.

“It’s hard to explain where to begin really. Going there, your mind set has got to completely change,” said SPC Casarez. “It’s not like back home, where its casual, where you have that safety mentality. Being over there you’ve got to be a little more alert.”

SPC Casarez was in Jalalabad, Afghanistan for roughly 11 months where for the most part, his company was responsible for security. He worked alongside the Afghan National Army and Afghan Security Guards.

His daily 12-15 hour shifts involved searching vehicles , and people, coming in and out of the Forward Operating Base also known as the entry control point. Most people checked were Afghanis that lived in and around the area.

“That was our main priority right there. Making sure that no weapons, no drugs were brought in and even to repel any attacks that were going to happen,” said SPC Casarez.

SPC Casarez also recognized that the Army is predominately Caucasian and African American. He noticed a hand full of Mexicans and other Latinos but never experienced any racial prejudice.

“Some of my best friends were from the deep south and had heavy country accents,” said SPC Casarez. “Of course we would poke fun at each other, but when it came down to it, we were a really tight knit group. There was no black, white, brown. It was just that uniform we all had on that made us a group”.

Throughout his journey, Casarez began to appreciate what he had. When things don’t seem to be going his way, he reminds himself of his experiences and realizes things aren’t that big of a deal. He appreciates being able to go home to see his 2 sons, 2 daughters and his wife Timetria, who he married 2 weeks before training. He appreciates all that’s available to him.

“The most memorable event was coming back from Afghanistan, just the whole flight alone, and how long it took, and how much anticipation I had,” said SPC Casarez.

Different scenarios ran through his mind, one that included the plane crashing or something else going wrong. He thought returning home was too good to be true. He was expecting the worst, but before he knew it, his wife and daughter received him. He remembers walking with the rest of the troop and seeing the people with flags.

“I look back and realize that it was a once in a lifetime experience.  Not too many people can say they’ve gone 9,000 miles away from home, stayed away from the family for so long and made it back alive,” said SPC Casarez. “I think there’s a real sense of pride in that. It’s like an accomplishment and that alone was worth it.”

Today,Afghanistan veteran Casarez is an assistant manager at a Walgreen’s in Milpitas. He is also a full time student at De Anza Community College as a business administration major. He has transferred out of the Army and is in the National Guard.

He will be celebrating Veteran’s Day. Sunday, November 11, 2012, for the first time with his family.

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