Retired colonel’s unlikely military path led from Mexico to Iraq | RecordCourier.com

Retired colonel’s unlikely military path led from Mexico to Iraq

by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

After he retired from the Nevada Army Guard last week as the director of logistics responsible for the oversight of $700 million in military equipment, Enrique De La Paz disclosed a fact that underscored the improbability the Genoa resident would attain the rank of colonel after his childhood spent entirely in Mexico.

“I didn’t speak a word of English until I moved to Las Vegas – I was 17,” said De La Paz, now 60. “My siblings didn’t speak a word of English, either. I entered high school as a sophomore knowing only Spanish. I had to quickly immerse myself in English and American culture.”

After his mother moved to the United States from Mexico in 1968, De La Paz waited four years to receive the lawful permanent resident documents that finally allowed the teen to join his mom in Nevada. A new language and way of life greeted him in the Silver State when he finally arrived in 1972.

De La Paz quickly overcame his lack of early exposure to English to graduate from Sunset High in 1974. By the time he was in his mid-20s, he was a successful, married businessman with two children nearing the completion of his degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In 1984, De La Paz, then 29 and a naturalized citizen, had the desire to serve in some capacity for his adopted homeland and began to speak with military recruiters.

“I knew I was lucky I had the chance to live in this country,” De La Paz said. “I had a really good life going at the time, with a well-paying job, a house, and growing family – I had what I wanted in life. But I was drawn to adventure and felt a heavy burden to serve.”

After basic training, De La Paz entered the Nevada Army Guard military academy’s officer candidate school and he received his commission in 1986. Only three other soldiers completed the demanding course that year, including future Oregon Army Guard Brig. Gen. Todd Plimpton and future Nevada Army Guard state aviation officer retired Col. Kim LaBrie. In order to become a U.S. Army officer, De La Paz had to renounce his Mexican citizenship.

For the majority of the 1990s, De La Paz served as a traditional (part time) armor officer in 1-221st Cavalry Squadron. In his civilian career, De La Paz owned a janitorial business that employed more than 500 people.

In the wake of the events of 9/11, De La Paz began working full time for the Nevada Army Guard as the commander of Task Force Las Vegas, a group of soldiers who provided supplemental security at Clark County airports in 2001-2002.

After a stint as a professor of military science at UNLV, De La Paz served as the battalion commander of the 992nd Troop Command from 2004-2006. The 992nd was largest and most-heavily deployed battalion in the Nevada Army Guard in the mid-2000s.

During his command, De La Paz experienced one of the most difficult times of his military career following the death of Spc. Anthony Cometa. De La Paz bid farewell to the soldiers of the 1864th Transportation Company, including Cometa, as they boarded the plane for Iraq in 2004.

“That experience is embedded on my mind and will never go away,” De La Paz said. “It was a very emotional time. It changed my own life and it changed the Nevada Guard. We had suffered our first casualty of the war and had to brace ourselves for more.”

When his battalion command concluded, De La Paz moved to northern Nevada and became the deputy chief of staff of personnel. Before becoming the director of logistics in 2012, he also recorded stints as the deputy director of training, the deputy director of strategic plans and the deputy director of logistics.

De La Paz earned a bronze star while deployed with the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2009-2011. While in Iraq, he was a Red Team leader who advised officials on intelligence and operational effects created by the military’s presence in Iraq.

De La Paz said his final position as the director of logistics was among the favorite of his 31-year career. The logistics directorate is the largest in the Nevada Army Guard, maintaining more than 30,000 pieces of equipment and employing about one-third of Nevada’s full-time technician force.

“People take logistics for granted, but without logistics, it’s impossible to sustain a war fight,” De La Paz said.

For at least a few months, De La Paz said he’ll be happy spending time with his ever-increasing family that includes six children and 14 grandchildren. He’s also a lay clergyman at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Mono County, Calif.

“Following more than 30 years in the military, the family comes first now,” De La Paz said. “My only goal now is 20 grandchildren.”