By Ashley M. Casey
For Fulton resident Matias Garcia and his friends, Veterans Day is more than just a day off.
The four men — all veterans of various branches of the United States’ armed forces — decided to commemorate their service and their colleagues’ with a run from Oswego to Fulton for the second year in a row.
Matias, an Army veteran who served in on the front lines in Afghanistan, joined Tomas Garcia and Victor Garcia (no relation, both Marines) and Derek Shue, Navy, in carrying an American flag for the roughly 11-mile run.
He said it was Tomas’s idea to run to raise awareness for Oswego County veterans.
“A lot of people drove by, slowed down, took pictures and cheered us on,” he said of the public’s response on the day of the run.
Matias, a 2005 graduate of G. Ray Bodley High School, joined the Army in December 2008. After training at Fort Benning, Ga. and time in Vicenza, Italy, he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
“For me, I kept the fight over in Afghanistan,” Matias said of his reasons for joining the Army. “I didn’t want another 9/11.”
He grew close with his fellow “Sky Soldiers,” as the 173rd is nicknamed.
“It was always about your buddies to the left and to the right of you. Politics aside … when a bullet comes flying by,” he said.
Matias remained in the service for three years before returning home to Fulton. He said his family and friends have always been supportive of his military and civilian careers.
As for reentering civilian life, Matias said a soldier’s life is stressful, no matter where he or she is stationed.
“They didn’t necessarily have to deploy to struggle (with coming back),” he said, “Once that structure’s gone, you need something to keep you busy.”
Matias said he sought veterans resources within the county.
“The VA office in Fulton helped me get back on my feet and work,” he said.
He has considered reenlisting, but for now he is attending classes at Cayuga Community College thanks to the G.I. Bill. He wants to pursue a career in either criminal justice or the medical field, to bring back the “rush” that he misses from being in the Army.
“The only skill I was taught was to engage in combat,” he said. If he reenlists, he said he would want to choose a different field so he could bring home some marketable skills.
A former wrestler for GRB, Matias has been volunteering with his alma mater’s wrestling coaches.
As for the run, Matias and his friends garnered support on social media and plan to repeat the experience for many Veterans Days to come.
“We’re going to keep doing it until our legs fall off,” Matias said.