GALLUP, N.M. –
As a youngster Sgt. Ignacio Alvarez dreamed of leaving his hometown of Gallup, tied down by the lack of opportunity and action.
Joining the Army was his way out, something he did at the age of 17, never looking back.
Eight years later, he finds himself back in Gallup recruiting for the Albuquerque Recruiting Company and making a difference in people’s lives.
This time, he’s happy to be there.
As half Navajo and Hispanic, Alvarez said growing up in Gallup was a unique experience, due to the geographic and cultural challenges in the remote location.
“Growing up in Gallup, there wasn’t much to do when I was a kid … myself and my friends rode our bikes a lot, played sports, anything to pass the time,” Alvarez said. “My mother was always challenging me at a young age to do something with my life – she was my primary inspiration.”
Alvarez said his mother encouraged him to join the Army, realizing it was a good career choice and an avenue out of Gallup.
“I have family members who retired from the Army and they’d taken a good path later in life, something my mother wanted for me,” Alvarez continued. “I needed to get off the reservation.”
Alvarez attended basic training immediately after graduating high school and became a military policeman stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“After three years there, I deployed to Afghanistan for nine months, came back and decided to reenlist,” he said. “Being in the Army was something I liked, great benefits, pay and adventure … everything I had hoped for.”
Alvarez spent the next three years at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, working in operations as an MP. Then one day he received news that would put him on the path back to Gallup.
“My first sergeant told me I had been selected as a recruiter. I thought it was cool and decided to meet the challenge head on,” Alvarez explained. “While I was at the recruiting school, I was called by the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion command sergeant major who told me I was coming there.”
“The first thing he asked is where I wanted to go. I said Phoenix or Tucson. He said ‘how do you feel about going back to Gallup?’” Alvarez said. “In my mind I’d joined the Army to escape Gallup, but now I was on the way back.”
Alvarez had to convince his wife of seven years, Mariah, also a Gallup native, that it would be a positive move for them.
“We were high school sweethearts and married right before I went to basic training, so our days in Gallup seemed far behind us,” Alvarez said. “She was hesitant at first, but we had the opportunity to be around our families again and we both knew it wasn’t permanent.”
Alvarez said he has made the most of his time back in Gallup, since moving back in Nov. 2017, with both his children, Angelo, 8, and Sophia, 3, able to see where he grew up.
“I really like being back with my family, especially in support of the Army’s recruiting mission," he said. “We bought a home here and I get a lot of assistance from my parents with my own family. My wife is also working on getting her degree from the University of New Mexico.”
But for Alvarez, recruiting locals who are in the same position he once was has been his main focus.
“I enjoy recruiting and being able to change people’s lives. A lot of people come to me because they know I’m from here, especially students from Gallup High School, where I also attended,” he said.
Alvarez said his Navajo heritage plays a huge part in his recruiting efforts, especially when talking to those with his same background.
“Being Navajo, they trust me a little more because I’m Native American,” Alvarez added. “I’ve put a lot of them in the Army simply because I’m from here. I always introduce myself in Navajo and know all the clans on the reservations.”
There’s a lot of interest on the reservations, who’re very pro-military, especially with the code talkers from World War II, he said.
“They want the same adventure I’ve had in the Army, to break out of the small-town mentality,” Alvarez said. “I’m happy that’s something I can help them with.”