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Proving patriotism

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, stands in an Air Force ceremonial uniform at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 15, 2017. Velazquez came to America from Mexico at a young age and dreamed of joining the military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, stands in an Air Force ceremonial uniform at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 15, 2017. Velazquez came to America from Mexico at a young age and dreamed of joining the military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, smiles with other firing party members at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. Velazquez gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training and is now in a coveted position amongst the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, smiles with other firing party members at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. Velazquez gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training and is now in a coveted position amongst the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party prepare for a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. The firing party gives honors to fallen Airmen buried at the cemetery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party prepare for a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. The firing party gives honors to fallen Airmen buried at the cemetery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

A photo of Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, and his spouse, Samantha Velzaquez, hangs in their home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 14, 2017. Four years after Jose and Samantha got married, Jose gained residency and was able to follow his dream to join the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

A photo of Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, and his spouse, Samantha Velzaquez, hangs in their home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 14, 2017. Four years after Jose and Samantha got married, Jose gained residency and was able to follow his dream to join the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, and Samantha Velazquez, Jose’s spouse, eat dinner in their home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 14, 2017. Samantha was born an American citizen and when the two got married five years ago, Jose became a resident of the country which allowed him to join the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, and Samantha Velazquez, Jose’s spouse, eat dinner in their home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 14, 2017. Samantha was born an American citizen and when the two got married five years ago, Jose became a resident of the country which allowed him to join the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, points at a yearbook photo of himself while looking through it inside his home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 18, 2017. Velazquez grew up in southern California after his parents left Mexico when he was young and gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, points at a yearbook photo of himself while looking through it inside his home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 18, 2017. Velazquez grew up in southern California after his parents left Mexico when he was young and gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party shoots their M-14 rifles during a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. The firing party perform a firing of three volleys to give honors to those who have fallen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party shoots their M-14 rifles during a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. The firing party perform a firing of three volleys to give honors to those who have fallen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, looks through old photos and letters from basic training in his home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 14, 2017. While achieving his goal of joining the military and gaining citizenship during Air Force basic training, Velazquez received mail from family and friends that he still holds onto. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, looks through old photos and letters from basic training in his home at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 14, 2017. While achieving his goal of joining the military and gaining citizenship during Air Force basic training, Velazquez received mail from family and friends that he still holds onto. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, sits on a bus at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. Velazquez gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training and is now a member of the Honor Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Airman 1st Class Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, sits on a bus at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., April 13, 2017. Velazquez gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training and is now a member of the Honor Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, holds his citizenship paperwork inside Ceremonial Hall at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 20, 2017. Velazquez came to America with his parents at a young age and gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)
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Jose Velazquez, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party member, holds his citizenship paperwork inside Ceremonial Hall at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Colombia, April 20, 2017. Velazquez came to America with his parents at a young age and gained citizenship after completing Air Force basic training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Philip Bryant)

FORT MEADE, Md. -- As a kid growing up in southern California, Jose “Angel” Velazquez dreamed of joining the military, but never thought he’d be a symbol of honor and perfection in the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard.

At El Monte High School in El Monte, California, he and his senior class took an aptitude test used by the military to measure an individual’s strengths and weakness called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Angel remembers scoring well enough to get some attention from recruiters.

“They kept telling me they wanted me to enlist and I told them ‘Yes, I definitely want to,’” said Angel, remembering conversations on the phone. “But I don’t have legal status.”

Angel’s parents brought him to America from Veracruz, Mexico, when he was five years old for a better life.

Growing up, his father worked two or three jobs at a time to support the family.

“I know that my parents have struggled and worked like no one else to give me and my little sister the life that they feel we deserve,” Angel said.

It wouldn’t be until Angel was older that he realized how him coming to this country would present an obstacle to one day support a family of his own.

“I never felt any different going through elementary and middle school,” Angel said. “I knew I was born in Mexico, but I didn’t feel or think I was any different from my peers. I didn’t come to realize that [I was different] until I graduated from high school and learned I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a social security number.”

Without a social security number, he knew college, a career and his goal of joining the military were all on hold.

“It was something I kept striving for and kept hoping for that eventually I would be able to join [the military],” said Angel.

As he continued to strive for his military dream, he also embarked on a quest for love.

Angel met the love of his life Samantha Rodriguez in 8th grade, dated on-and-off through high school then got married years later at 22. He filed for U.S. residency and after a four year waiting period, Angel’s green card arrived. Shortly after he walked into an Air Force recruiter’s office.

A year later, Angel stands in formation holding an M-14 rifle and as one of seven Airmen in a coveted position amongst the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard firing party.

Angel now holds the responsibility of rendering final honors at Arlington National Cemetery for fallen Airmen.

“It’s pretty incredible that I feel [the Honor Guard has] made me more patriotic,” Angel said. “I’ve always been patriotic, but I think it’s made me even more patriotic because you see firsthand what has been sacrificed and what people have given for our freedom.”

Looking out on the thousands of tombstones that flow over the hills of the cemetery grounds, Angel and the firing party stand motionless until performing a firing of three volleys.

“I felt like joining the military was the only proper way to prove that I wanted to be in this country and the only way I could properly repay this country for every opportunity it has opened up to me,” Angel said.

People close to the 27-year-old know how much being in the military means to him.

“Whatever he puts his mind to will get accomplished,” Samantha said. “That’s one thing I admire about him.”

Testimony to his hard work and perseverance is the same message he echoes to others.

“I would tell anyone in my position to keep their head up and keep moving forward,” Angel said. “Don’t let anyone hold you back and stay resilient.”

He graduated Air Force basic training, achieving his goal of joining the military and gaining citizenship, then became an Honor Guardsman.

Proving that a kid born in Veracruz, Mexico, and from southern California, with a dream of serving this country can be a symbol of American patriotism.
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