Lt. Col. Derek Campbell, 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment commander, salutes Pvt. Juliet Ayala after presenting her the distinguished honor graduate award during her Basic Combat Training ceremony Sept. 1 at Fort Jackson, S.C. Ayala said she enlisted in the Army because of “my older brother. I am living out his dreams because he is sick.” (Photo by Nathan Clinebelle)

‘He’s sick,’ why one chose military service

By Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

More than 850 Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment graduated Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson on Sept. 1. Proudly standing on Hilton Field, the Soldiers conducted the movements they had practiced for days as their Family members and friends looked on from the stands.

“The youngest on the field is just 17 years old and the oldest is 45,” said Lt. Col. Derek Campbell, 2-13th commander and keynote speaker. “We have representatives from 42 states and territories, nine countries from all parts of the world and they represent 42 military occupational skills.”

Among the graduates, 10 were recognized for their exceptional work and performance throughout their training cycle, declaring them as distinguished honor graduates.

Each was presented a certificate from Campbell during the ceremony and a coin from Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, Fort Jackson’s commanding general.

“You are the few that have chosen to wear our nation’s cloth. Using the things you have learned these past few weeks will make you a better sister, brother, mother, and father because of the discipline that has been instilled in you,” Kelly said. “Notice how this group has gotten smaller. There were many and now there are few because you are the best of the bunch. You have set the bar high. Continue to give no ground on excellence.”

Each of the honorees volunteered to join the Army for a variety of reasons. Many enlisted to better their lives and futures through stable income and the skills they will learn throughout their careers while others joined for college funding or continuing their Families legacy of military service.

For Pvt. Juliet Ayala, her decision to join the Texas Army National Guard was based solely on her selflessness, which happens to be one of the seven core Army Values.

“The person that influenced me most to join the Army was my older brother,” Ayala said. “I am living out his dreams for him because he is sick.”

A twin, her brother Jesus Hernandez was born with special needs. Plagued by a vast variety of medical conditions to include kidney failure, brittle bones, perforated intestines, and kidney transplant rejection. At 21 years old, Hernandez will never live without assistance from family or medical professionals and will never medically qualify to enlist in any branch of service.

“Whenever he saw a Soldier in uniform he would have the brightest smile on his face,” Ayala recounted. “He would point and laugh and want to go take pictures with them. He can’t live on his own and do things on his own, so I wanted to become a Soldier for him.”

“I know it’s going to make him excited when I go home in 14 weeks after Advanced Individual Training. I know he will have the brightest smile and I that’s what I was picturing when I was marching down (Hilton Field).”

Ayala’s grandparents and aunt attended her graduation ceremony and spent the next few days with her as they drove her to Fort Lee, Virginia, where she will learn to become a 91B-Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic.

Ayala’s mother was unable to attend the ceremony but was able to watch as it was aired on Facebook Live.

At just 18 years old, Ayala has lived through a variety of social economic and devastating events. The daughter of immigrants, she understands the struggle of the immigration process and finding her place within her community of Waco, Texas. Located less than 40 miles from Uvalde, her and her community suffered the devastating effects to her community and culture in the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022.

“I was at home when it happened. My uncle’s girlfriend, her cousin was killed unfortunately,” she said. “It was very hard to visit the (memorial) site they had.”

Ayala and her Family visited the memorial site outside the school’s fence to show their support to those they knew involved in the incident as well as those they did not.

“You could feel how intense the atmosphere was,” she explained. “With how messed up things are right now, I hope someone uses it to make change in this world.”

Upon learning her history and reason for enlisting, some have called her an inspiration.

“It feels weird because I have never had anyone call me that,” she said. “I’m also happy that someone can find that inspiring and I hope it helps inspire other people to do something for others.”

“She has always been a good person,” said Dora Cabrera, Ayala’s grandmother. “Her brother has a lot of problems and she wants to be there for him. I’m extremely proud of her.”

While she carries the title of daughter, sister and now Soldier, her grandfather simply calls her princess.

“She is my princess,” exclaimed Reymundo Cabrera, Ayala’s grandfather. “It was a great feeling watching her graduate. Since she was little, she was always kind and helped people.”

“Her brother is going to be jumping up and down with joy when she comes home from Virginia.”

Before signing out of her unit, Ayala was greeted by Col. Byron Williams II and Command Sgt. Maj. William Robinson, the Fort Jackson-Army National Guard senior and senior enlisted advisor respectively, who congratulated her on her success and presented her with a personal note of thanks and congratulations.

Not yet knowing her history, all Williams could say was “Wow, that is amazing.” He explained how she is the caliber of Soldier the National Guard seeks out and how her compassion and selflessness will enhance the Texas National Guard’s ability to respond in times of crisis.

Until then, Ayala and her Family members will celebrate her graduation and her grandfather’s birthday before her report date to Fort Lee.

“Tomorrow is my birthday and we want to do something together with her,” Reymundo Cabrera said. “There can be no better present than that. I love her a lot.”