Wayland students take leave for military duty

PLAINVIEW - Rudy Garcia had a plan for the fall: He'd be enrolled full-time at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, working toward an accounting degree he'd hoped to finish years ago.

Uncle Sam had other plans. Garcia, 30, is a specialist with the 2nd Division/142nd Mechanized Infantry of the Army National Guard based in Plainview, a group being activated into service and deployed to Iraq in the coming weeks.

Garcia, whose wife Dora works at Wayland, served four years of active duty from 1994-98 and has been in the reserves since 1998. He was called up in 2001, following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, and spent a year in San Antonio doing guard duty. But he's been pursuing his education for the last year and hoped he'd be able to earn a discharge from the reserves in January 2004, but with the war still going on, the Department of Defense was not allowing leaves.

"I wanted to finish up my school and didn't want my National Guard duty to interfere," Garcia said of his decision to exit the military. "I was praying about it and hoping (a deployment) wouldn't happen, but it did."

When he received word his unit would be heading first to Fort Hood in Killeen and then to Iraq in January, Garcia begrudgingly came to the Wayland offices to withdraw indefinitely.

"I'd already preregistered for the fall and had good grants in place," he said. "I hated to have to leave."

Joe Luis Castillo, a fellow unit member, had to withdraw for the same reason. But for him, it's the second time military service has interrupted his school plans. Castillo was midway through the Fall 2001 semester when he was called up to help with security duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He had to withdraw immediately and leave within weeks.

After that year was over, Castillo completed another semester at Wayland, then laid out for a while to attend special training program with his job at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's units in Plainview. He registered again in Fall 2003, completing two more semesters and pre-registering for another fall.

When the call came in, Castillo knew the routine. He came in to withdraw, expecting to be gone another 18 months. Eventually, he says, he intends to finish school. if the Army will let him.

"I joined the service to better myself but also to help pay for school, and I've been trying to finish for about four years now," Castillo said with a chuckle. "I make do, though, because it's my duty."

Castillo said he had hoped to finish a degree in criminal justice before he turned 30, but noted that since he was only a few months away from that, he would likely miss that goal.

Hopie Chapa, a sophomore studying physical education, is also putting her education off for the deployment. She's served six years in the National Guard and this is her first round of active duty.

"It's not something I really want to do, but it's a short period of time and I'm doing this so my family can continue to have the freedoms we have," Chapa said. "I'd rather go over there and fight than have the war over here."

Besides her school books and a full-time job at Excel, Chapa will leave behind a three-year-old daughter in the care of her husband and mother. That, she says, is harder than serving in wartime Iraq.

"The hardest part is explaining to her why I'll be gone for a year and a half," she said. "It really hurts the most."

Chapa said she's yet to officially withdraw from Wayland for the deployment, preferring to wait until the last minute, keeping hope alive that the mission will be called off and she can attend classes as planned.

The deployed unit, which includes several other WBU students as well as alum David Turpin, will be leaving mid-August for Fort Hood for special training, then are set to go to Iraq in January. Turpin quit his job as music and youth minister at First Baptist Church in Carrizo Springs because of the extended deployment - his second in the past four years. His daughter Marta is a senior at Wayland and another daughter, Lana, will be attending in the fall.

Garcia said the unit normally works with mortars, but their assignment will be different for the coming deployment.

"They told us we probably won't be doing our regular jobs, but they don't know what the mission will be," he said. "What a lot of us will be doing is convoy security for the men on the vehicles going from Baghdad to Kuwait."

Castillo said for the time being, he is not nervous about the trip, but knows that feeling may not last.

"Right now, I'm calm and collected, but the day I get off the airplane, I'll probably feel differently," he said. "I'm just trying to spend time with my family and get things done before I leave."

Chapa agrees.

"I was scared at first but not anymore. I know the Lord will be with us and I have faith in Him."