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Airman keeps vehicles movin' four decades in the making

Technical Sgt. Miguel Casarez checks the oil of a government-owned vehicle Oct. 4 at Ali Base, Iraq. Sergeant Casarez is a member of theTexas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing's Logistics Readiness Squadron deployed to the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

Technical Sgt. Miguel Casarez checks the oil of a government-owned vehicle Oct. 4 at Ali Base, Iraq. Sergeant Casarez is a member of theTexas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing's Logistics Readiness Squadron deployed to the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

Technical Sgt. Miguel Casarez checks the winch on a five-ton wrecker for proper operation Oct. 4 at Ali Base, Iraq. This vehicle is primairly used to tow or pull out stuck or broken down heavy vehicles. Sergeant Casarez is a member of theTexas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing's Logistics Readiness Squadron deployed to the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

Technical Sgt. Miguel Casarez checks the winch on a five-ton wrecker for proper operation Oct. 4 at Ali Base, Iraq. This vehicle is primairly used to tow or pull out stuck or broken down heavy vehicles. Sergeant Casarez is a member of theTexas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing's Logistics Readiness Squadron deployed to the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

Technical Sgt. Miguel Casarez of the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, Oct. 4 at Ali Air Base, Iraq. Sergeant Casarez is a deployed member of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing’s Logistics Readiness Squadron in San Antonio. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

Technical Sgt. Miguel Casarez of the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, Oct. 4 at Ali Air Base, Iraq. Sergeant Casarez is a deployed member of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing’s Logistics Readiness Squadron in San Antonio. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

ALI BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Nearly 38 years ago, an Airman from San Antonio received his calling to join the military.

It was a lazy summer morning in 1970. A Harlandale High School letterman awakens to a knock at the door. The young man, who just weeks before had marched down the aisle to receive his diploma, stood scratching his head, absorbing his new marching orders -- an Army draft notification. 

"I wasn't doing cartwheels," said Tech. Sgt. Miguel Casarez, who is deployed with the 407th Air Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron here. "You take it as the way it comes, so I just took it. I thought, if I was meant to serve my country -- well, here I am." 

He had just enough time to dress and say goodbye to his grandfather with whom he
lived. He walked out the door dressed in his usual attire -- starched, pleated pants, a starched button-down shirt and polished Stacy Adams shoes -- which he'd soon be trading in for fatigues and spit-shined combat boots. Joining dozens more young draftees at the call station in downtown San Antonio, he was sworn in and then bussed to Fort Ord, Calif. 

He served in the Army until 1972 -- and by "divine grace," he said, did not end up going to Vietnam as many of his friends did. 

"I felt bad because I wanted to serve my country; not being sent was disappointing," he said. "But people kept saying, 'Be happy that you're alive,' so I took that as a sign." 

After the Army, he returned to his hometown and worked with his father as a carpenter for about a year. One day his best friend from high school, now a truck driver, asked him to ride along with him to Corpus Christi, Texas. On the way back up to the Alamo City, his friend let him take a test drive. The open road spoke to Sergeant Casarez, and from that moment he knew what he wanted to do and has been on the road ever since. 

His calling to serve still beckoned him so he joined the Army Reserve for eight more
years and drove a tractor trailer full time. At first all the traveling and being away was
difficult for his bride, Mary Lou, but over time and distance she came to understand his longing for the journey. 

Just when he thought his military days were done, yet another friend coaxed him into
looking into a new journey. 

"I crossed into the blue in 1986, and never looked back," Sergeant Casarez said. 

Starting out as an aircraft mechanic and continuing his truck-driving career, he became a member of the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing Logistics Readiness Squadron, where he plans to stay until he retires. After 22 years on the open road, Sergeant Casarez hung up his driving gloves in 1996 and went civil service, working as a special vehicle mechanic with the Guard. Sergeant Casarez has no plans to stop working with the military any time soon; he said he intends to just keep on truckin' until they tell him he can't stay any longer. 

Being a convoy escort traversing Iraq, north to south, east to west, has made the most impact on Sergeant Casarez. 

"I can never forget the looks of the people as we drove down the highway," he said. "At a glance you would see fear, anger, terror. Some would nod slowly with gratefulness. 

"We just kept driving," Sergeant Casarez continued. "Day after day you get to know the highway -- every bump after bump, always on the lookout for roadside bombs." 

Sergeant Casarez has driven nearly a half-million miles coast to coast and all over the world. Knowing it's time to hand over the reins to the younger Airmen, Sergeant Casarez says he's satisfied and proud to teach them all that he knows. 

"I want to leave them with everything I have learned and hope they will take at least some of it," he said. 

Sergeant Casarez spends more time these days behind the desk or in the vehicle yard, keeping control of the base's vehicle fleet. 

"I'd rather be on the highway," he said. But he hopes to teach the Airmen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to always "remember what our grandfathers and great grandfathers gave their lives for and protect that. We must continue to provide safety, protection for our children and our children's children." 

Being in Iraq, again, Sergeant Casarez says he misses fellowship the most. He looks forward to going fishing, playing some baseball, helping out at his church and especially spending time with Mary Lou, his two sons, his daughter, four granddaughters and newborn grandson. 

Although he could only say goodbye to his grandfather that summer day, a dozen conflicts ago, a family of more than 100 await his return to San Antonio next year.