South Texas Heroes: Jose Jatib

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Life didn't begin in the United States for one Laredo man. He and his family escaped Cuba to come the U.S. and he wanted to repay the country that gave him so much through military service. Jose Jatib was just a boy when his family fled Cuba. In that country he says he would have been forced to serve in the military. But in the United States, Jatib jumped at the chance to be in the Air Force.

It's the Christmas season at the Jatib home. They've been blessed with the freedom to practice their faith in the United States, and the ability to make their own career choices and strive for personal success. But it was a much different world for Jose Jatib growing up in Cuba. "In Cuba they tell you what you're going to be. They tell you if you're going to be a technician or a mechanic. They tell you what your career is going to be. They dictate your life," Jatib said.

But when Jatib was 9 in 1968 his father got them out, first to Spain, then to the United States. He and his father had to travel separately from the rest of their family but they all eventually made it to Laredo in 1970. And Jose Jatib had never seen anything like it. "There's opportunity. You can be whatever you want in the United States," he said.

So when he reached the age of military service he considered it a privilege to serve. Jatib said he told his father, "I want to join, I want to join the military. I have so much to give back to this country."

In 1981 Jatib joined the Air Force which he remained a part of until 1992 stationed in Spain and other spots around the U.S. Specializing in supply management he ordered everything from food to parts for vehicles and airplanes. He managed stock, took inventory, and trained others to do the same thing. And he got to put those skills to use during war time. He remembers his reaction very clearly when Operation Desert Storm began in 1990. "The impact was going through so many emotions when these things happen, and the thing was we need to be ready, are we ready," he said.

He volunteered to go overseas. Jatib was stationed in Saudi Arabia and much of his supply management work dealt with supporting planes on missions in Iraq. "In this case we managed over 200, several squadrons of airplanes with 15 airplanes and each airplane's about 3,000 parts," he told us.

And their support was vital to the U.S. mission in the Middle East. "There's a saying in the military, the Air Force, that you can't fly without supply. An airplane can't take off if it doesn't have the right part. And an airplane can't do the mission if there's something wrong with the aircraft," Jatib said.

He never came under attack during his military tour. But aver leaving active duty in 1992 he became a contract worker for Boeing and went back to Saudi Arabia as a civilian. He stayed there for 18 years. At that point he did see experience enemy fire. "In 2012 they attacked 3 compounds and I remember very well. The roof came down, the door blew out, and it was scary," he told us.

He eventually left Boeing and came back to Laredo. Now he and his wife are watching their son and daughter begin their adult lives in this land of freedom, a land he was honored to help protect. Jatib said, "it's the greatest country in the world. It really is, and my father always taught me that this is freedom. When you don't have it, you really appreciate it when you have freedom."