By Josey Diaz
Yobany Colato spent two weeks of fall semester holding an M-16 in one hand and handing out water bottles to the homeless with the other.
He was deployed to Panama City, Florida by the National Guard to assist hurricane relief forces after Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
Colato is one semester away from acquiring his Associate’s in Arts from FSW, holds a full-time job and is building a career in public safety starting as a member of the Florida National Guard.
Upon entrance, guardsmen like Colato take an oath to perform both state and federal missions at any given time by order of the state governor, or in serious cases, even the president of the United States. The governor typically calls the Guard to assist in natural disasters or civil disturbances. Colato dealt with both in Panama City.
In times of peace, the Guard train one weekend every month and two weeks during the year.
When called for a mission, guardsmen must drop everything.
“I was just sitting in class and I just got the call. They told me to grab my gear and head over to the Army the next day even though I had two midterms and two assignments the next day.”
And he went. Two weeks later, he was back on Collier campus with a pile of money from the Guard and a mountain of homework on his desk. His life stopped for deployment. His professors kept assigning work.
Colato’s blossoming military career only drove him to achieve more in his work and education. Despite the struggles of balancing military and school work, being in the Guard has turned him from a directionless high school graduate into a young adult excited for the future.
Colato had no plans for college or career as his high school career ended in 2016. Two weeks after his graduation, he realized it wasn’t the life for him.
“I just joined because I didn’t have much going for myself,” said Colato. “I wanted to better myself as an individual, challenge myself, see what I’m capable of doing.”
Two months after graduation, he loaded into a white bus on his way to Sarasota for boot camp. Boot camp was challenging for Colato, as it is for many young soldiers. But he saw what he was capable of.
“The first day was the hardest,” Colato said. “As soon as we got off the bus, five drill sergeants were yelling at us to run laps. People were passing out and they were still making us run. [On another day] they tear-gassed all of us.”
Today, almost three years later, Colato is a proud member of the Florida National Guard. He plans to pursue a career in law enforcement and public service.
Colato says he’s ready for everything that they’re going to throw at him.