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Deployed Airman’s dedication spans two services, five decades

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Karla Parra
  • 332nd AEW/ Public Affairs

332nd AIR EXPEDITIONARY WING – It was a living nightmare –lights flickering, windows vibrating and buildings shaking. Thousands of people screamed in despair as they became trapped in thick, dark clouds of smoke while others stood in front of their televisions bewildered—watching as people jumped out of 110 story buildings. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 inflicted a devastating emotional toll among Americans. While some found themselves in a state of sadness, fear, and anger, others understood this as a call to action.

According to the MilitaryTimes, “More people enlisted in the military 12 months following the Sept. 11 attacks than they had in 16 years. Three weeks after the attacks, 181,510 enlisted in active-duty ranks and 72,908 joined the enlisted reserves.”

More men and women were inspired to serve their country and Jorge Cordoves, then an art director, was no exception. The event triggered his urge to reenlist and eventually made his way back to military life after a 20-year gap.

Fascinated by aircraft, 17-year-old Cordoves walked into his Air Force recruiter’s office in 1984 and asked, “Which job is the one that will get me on an aircraft?”

“We currently have slots for air transportation,” replied his recruiter, “That’ll get you there.”

“Then that’s where I want to go,” said Cordoves.

Soon after, Cordoves became part of the 70th Aerial Port Squadron at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida.

Short of 3 years in the Air Force, Airman First Class Cordoves decided to follow his older brother and transferred to the Army National Guard in 1986 where he pursued a career in Infantry.

“A change in panorama wasn’t bad,” explained Cordoves. “The only caveat to transferring between branches is dropping rank,”

He served his entire Army career as Private Second Class, until he left the service in 1989 at age 22.

“The following year, the Persian Gulf War broke out and I was called during my Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) phase,” said Cordoves. IRR is full of trained soldiers who remain on standby in case a war breaks out even after their military term commitment. “My brother was also called and immediately sent to Saudi Arabia to help the cause. As for me, I was told to stand by.”

After anxiously waiting for his turn, Cordoves missed out on the opportunity to serve overseas and instead redirected his focus outside the military.

As a 23-year-old, Cordoves was ready to explore the civilian sector for the first time in his adult life. He went on to pursue one of his passions and achieved a degree in graphics.

He thought his military years were behind him until he was shook by the alarming news coverage on September 11, 2001.

Newly married, Cordoves told his wife, “I am going back in.”

“Are you out of your mind?” she exclaimed.

Cordoves recalls when he first announced his desire to return to the military.

“I’m seeing it in my head right now. We were at my sister’s house and as soon as I told everyone I wanted to return to the service, they all thought I was crazy.

Not too long after, we got pregnant with our first born. Two years later we had our second child,” said Cordoves. “Time had gone by fast, but my urge to return to the military never faded.”

“I started seeing a recruiter. I didn’t tell my wife at first because I wanted to know my options,” said Cordoves. “I eventually mentioned it to her. She came home one day and I told her ‘By the way, I reenlisted.’”

Although his wife did not receive the news too well at first, Cordoves pressed on and once again became part of the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base, in 2009, at the age of 43.

Despite his prior Air Force and Army experience, Cordoves once again switched between branches which meant he was forced to drop rank—again.

As an Airman, Cordoves belonged to the maintenance group where he worked for two years, but made his way back home to the 70th APS in 2011.

“It’s true what they say, you don’t feel like you are working when you enjoy what you do,” said Cordoves as he reflected on his decade in service since his return to the military.

“Deployments have been some of the highlights of my career; so far I’ve been on three.”

Cordoves deployed to Kyrgyzstan in 2013 where he got his first taste of active duty life.

“It was a really awesome experience. Some days we would transport 300-500 service members in support of the Afghanistan war.”

In 2017, Cordoves deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates where he served as the noncommissioned officer in charge of his section. By nature, deployments are full of risks and potentially life-threatening situations. On this deployment, however, the risk to his life wasn’t from an enemy’s weapon in combat.

Halfway through his deployment, Cordoves started to experience sharp pains in his rib cage.

He hesitated to look into it until the pain became unbearable.

“The pain was off the charts,” said Cordoves.

He was taken off base for further treatment a couple times. What was supposed to be his follow-up visit became an emergency surgery procedure—he had a ruptured gallbladder.

“I’m thinking the worst. Something is going to happen to me. I’m miles away in a foreign country and I got no family here—nothing,” Cordoves recalled. “I couldn’t call my wife because at that time, I had no clue what was actually wrong with me besides the fact that I needed surgery. I didn’t want to worry her so I thought to myself, I’ll just call her when I wake up.”

As his health improved after a successful surgery, Cordoves was eager to return to work.

Right before the 6th month into his deployment, Cordoves’ commander explained that the environment was not conducive to his recovery and sent him home.

Despite his setbacks, Cordoves has never been discouraged to continue serving his country.

As soon as Cordoves learned of the upcoming deployments back in 2020, he began looking for a candidate to replace him as the unit deployment manager for the possibility to, once again, serve his country abroad.

“I would deploy as often as I could if I could. I absolutely love deploying,” he says. “This is the first year I’m deployed during Veterans Day, and I have to say, it’s an honor.”

Master Sgt. Diego Zambrano, 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port superintendent, has worked with now, Master Sgt. Cordoves, for approximately a decade.

“His dedication is second to none. The 70th APS is very lucky to have someone so committed to the unit and mission,” said Zambrano. “He is the individual that plays a fatherly role within this deployment providing many first-time deployers advice and guidance.”

Everyone’s military journey looks different. However, it is the willingness to defend and protect the U.S. at any time which sets the dedicated 1-percent apart.

“There may be things I could have done differently, but when I returned from my 20-year break, I brought prior AF and Army experience as well as additional educational experience and priceless life experience which have allowed me to contribute more to my unit,” said Cordoves. “I’d probably keep on serving after 60 if I could. I absolutely love doing this.”