Page 12 - Access 2021
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Father and Son Pursue Higher Education Together
     tyler VelaSco
rick VelaSco
Velasco grew up in Tulare and joined the Army National Guard when he graduated from high school in 1992. He enlisted to fol- low in the footsteps of an older brother, and, he says, finishing basic training at Fort Knox in Kentucky is one of his greatest accomplishments. In 1994, Velasco went on active duty and over the next seven years was deployed to Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar, as well as twice to Iraq.
In 2001, he returned to civilian life – not yet 30, proud to have served his nation but carrying with him the stress of that service. Velasco took a job with the California Department of Corrections and worked for the next 17 years as a correctional officer in five prisons.
In 2017, he left the department because of work-related injuries and soon made another life-changing decision: Velasco, 48, joined the Veterans Education Program at Fresno State and en- couraged his 26-year-old son, Tyler, to do the same.
Tyler had joined the Army Reserve at 19 and three years later went on active duty. “I wanted to figure out what I was about and what I could do both physically and mentally. I feel the military is still one of the greatest things American society has to offer,” he says.
Like his father, Tyler became a combat medic – a soldier trained to fight but also render medical aid in both combat and noncom- bat situations. “I was really proud to do the job my dad did in the Army,” he says. “There was a time growing up when I was distant from him. But becoming a combat medic bridged a lot of those gaps.” Tyler was stationed in both the United States and Europe, and he left the Army early in 2020 with pride for having served but also emotionally exhausted. “To be frank, I didn’t think I was going to do anything for a few years.” Then his father told him about the Veterans Education Program. “I decided if he was so set on moving in a healthy direction, I would follow. His excitement was infectious,” Tyler says.
 Army combat medic Rick Velasco peered into the inky darkness that shrouded the Iraqi desert. Suddenly, explosive rounds erupted from the AK-47s of enemy insurgents.
Velasco and other soldiers in his company returned fire and then came an urgent shout: “MEDIC!” Velasco headed toward the voice and found the shouting soldier with an unrespon- sive platoon sergeant lying in a desert hollow.
“Initially, I thought he had a gunshot wound,” Velasco says. But there was no blood so he pivoted to other possibilities, working in darkness because a light would have made them an easy target.
Velasco concluded the sergeant had collapsed from a cardiac-re- lated issue. “He needed immediate intervention, and I didn’t have a defibrillator to help stabilize his heart,” Velasco says. The sergeant required hospital treatment. So Velasco radioed for a Blackhawk and did CPR to keep blood flowing to the man’s brain as he waited for the transport.
The whirling sound of helicopter rotors soon cut through the night. The Blackhawk arrived in time and the sergeant survived with no brain damage.
Velasco grows silent today when an interviewer observes that he saved a life that night in the desert. “Yes,” he finally says quietly. No more words are necessary.
“They’ve helped me –
 12 California State University, F R E S N O
d all of us – to reintegrate into school and build confidence.”

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