KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – When Pfc. Clark Cepeda took his two sons to get their hair cut near their home in Marlton, N.J., in 2013, he came across a military recruiting station close to the barber shop.
It had been less than a year since he moved his family from the Philippines to the United States, and Cepeda's dream as a child growing up in the Philippines was to serve in the military. His grandfather, who he helped take care of, was a decorated Filipino veteran who fought for his country during World War II and was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. His service was a major influence for Cepeda's childhood dream.
U.S. Army Pfc. Clark Cepeda works on his computer at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, April 9, 2014. Cepeda, a training room clerk for 4th Infantry Brigade Combat, 4th Infantry Division, is serving on his first deployment. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Antony S. Lee)
Cepeda had tried to join the Philippine Navy years before but was turned down, he said.
“I thought I could no longer be in the military because of my age,” Cepeda, who was 34 at the time, said.
Despite his doubts, he talked to a recruiter and when he learned he could join the U.S. Army and pursue his childhood dream, Cepeda wasted no time scheduling an appointment to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
“When (the recruiter) told me I could still join, I didn't believe him at first,” he said. “This (was) my last chance. This was my dream since I was a kid.”
After passing the ASVAB, Cepeda enlisted into the U.S. Army on May 20, 2013, and shipped to Fort Benning, Ga., to complete his training as an infantryman.
After graduating in September 2013, he was stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., to serve with 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, a unit he recently deployed with to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on his first deployment.
“I'm now with one of the most prestigious military organizations in the world,” he said.
Cepeda's short Army career has already provided him several valuable experiences, including his participation in a naturalization ceremony. Three days before he graduated from infantry school, he officially became a U.S. citizen – a moment he says was “very much” a big one for him. He was also promoted to private first class shortly after arriving in Afghanistan.
Staff Sergeant Benjamin Kimball, Cepeda's supervisor, said Cepeda is one of the hardest working Soldiers he has ever worked with.
“He is an excellent Soldier,” he said. “As soon as he understands his task, he completes it and excels at it.”
Although Cepeda is an infantryman, he has been working as a training room clerk, and he has adapted to his new job, Kimball added.
Cepeda serves in the Army in large part because he and his wife, a nurse, want to provide better lives for their children than they had growing up, he said. His first son even recently told him that he wants to join the Army one day.
“It makes me very proud because he already knows what he's doing,” Cepeda said. “He knows I'm fighting for the country that provided us the opportunities and accepted us wholeheartedly.”
Cepeda's dream of serving in the military became even greater after seeing the Sept. 11 attacks on CNN while he and his wife were preparing for their son's first birthday in 2001, he said.
“You (could) feel the pain,” he said. “It (made) you angry at whoever did this.”
More than 12 years later, Cepeda reflected on the opportunity to serve his country in Afghanistan.
“This is my dream – to be in the military,” he said. “I love my job.”
By U.S. Army Sgt. Antony S. Lee
Provided through DVIDS
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