TXANG Guardsman finds success despite challenges

BASTROP, Texas -- BASTROP, Texas -- Members from the Texas Air and Army National Guard, Chile and the Czech Republic competed in a series of events March 2-4 to determine who would be among the year’s top contenders of the 2017 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition.

Prior to attending the three-day event, participants prepared themselves for the rigorous conditions, physical tests and mental challenges that awaited them during the competition.

For Senior Airman Orlando Duarte, Best Warrior wasn’t just a competition. It was also a testament to the obstacles he’d faced and overcame throughout his entire life and career.

Duarte, an aerospace propulsion mechanic with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, was born and raised in Mexico before moving to the United States to finish high school.

Separated from his family, he had to conquer language and cultural barriers to reach his overall goals.

“I wanted to move here to become a pilot,” Duarte said. “My parents didn't think I was going to take it seriously, so they sent me to California by myself. When I got there, I was told by the school they were going to downgrade me to freshman because I wasn’t fluent in English. So I was required to do ninth, tenth and eleventh grade English before I could graduate.”

Despite the setback, Duarte excelled, finishing the classes and graduating in just one year.

“On my graduation day my dad came from Mexico to pick me up,” Durante said. “He and I then drove to San Antonio, looked for a house, and a week later my two sisters, my little brother and my mom came.”

After moving to Texas, Duarte joined the Air National Guard. The language barrier continued to be an obstacle but with the support of his family and leadership, he continued to achieve his goals. Now, having earned his private pilot’s license flying Cessna 150 and 172 model aircraft.

Training for the competition was not an easy feat for Durante. With only three weeks to prepare and a heavy work schedule, Duarte had to push himself to be performance ready. But for Duarte, opportunities like the Best Warrior Competition, keep him from getting complacent.

“I’m a full-time technician,” he said. “I would train from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and then had to work 2 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday. It’s been tough for me, but it’s something I wanted to do and I wanted to do my best. I’m representing my unit and my family. I feel like a lot of people are counting on me. Every time I was tired and wanted to give up, I just kept pushing.”

Duarte won first place for three of the nine junior enlisted categories.