Camilo's Retreat

He left the war behind to enter a whole new controversy

But five months after Camilo's birth, his parents separated. His mother, Costa Rican-born Maritza Castillo, took the youngster and his older brother, Carlos, to New York, then to her native country, for two years before returning to Nicaragua. Back home, she began a love affair with Camilo Ortega, one of three brothers leading the Sandinistas. (Daniel Ortega served as president from 1979 to 1989 and recently reassumed the role.)

Camilo Ortega died in battle that same year. "We watched the revolution unfurl," Castillo recalled during a recent conversation outside a Starbucks in Sunny Isles Beach. Despite her Costa Rican birthright, Castillo is a pure Nicoya, even dropping "que barbaridad" into every other sentence — a common thing among her countrymen. The 52-year-old wears eyeglasses and has brown eyes, dark tan skin, and curly hair down to her chin.

In 1979, following the Sandinista victory, Castillo and her sons moved into a five-bedroom house in a posh Managua neighborhood. The family had a maid and a gardener. Mejía Godoy, who by then had remarried, lived a few blocks away and was a deputy in the Nicaraguan National Assembly. Camilo and his brother soon began attending a school reserved for the children of government officials, including those of Daniel Ortega.

Camilo and 126 other soldiers from the ex-sergeant's company won the Combat Infantry Badge during their tour in one of the deadliest cities in Iraq.
Jacqueline Carini
Camilo and 126 other soldiers from the ex-sergeant's company won the Combat Infantry Badge during their tour in one of the deadliest cities in Iraq.
Maritza Castillo urged her son Camilo not to enlist in the American armed forces and, later on, asked the military to release him from prison.
Jacqueline Carini
Maritza Castillo urged her son Camilo not to enlist in the American armed forces and, later on, asked the military to release him from prison.

"Since Camilo was a baby, he was very sure of himself," Castillo says affectionately. "When he was about 11 or 12, Camilo decided he was going to visit his grandfather in Costa Rica without my permission." He took off alone on a bus, and it wasn't until he reached the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border that he called his mom. "I ordered him to come home right away, but he wouldn't listen," she says. "I had to call the border authorities to send him back to Managua."

Contacted by telephone in the Nicaraguan capital, Mejía Godoy explains: "We raised [Carlos and Camilo] to be independent. Camilo was very mature for his age. And he always talked about having a career in literature or the arts."

In 1991, after the fall of the Sandinistas, Castillo and her boys moved again, to Costa Rica. Three years later, they headed for Miami, where Camilo attended night school at American Senior High in Miami Lakes. Castillo landed a job as a Publix cashier; Camilo worked at a local Burger King, where he swept the parking lot, cleaned bathrooms, and broiled burgers. He had a two-hour break before school, so his days would usually start at 5:30 a.m. and finish at 10 p.m.

Camilo didn't attend prom or graduation. He received his high school diploma in the principal's office. When he was 19 years old, the armed forces beckoned him with the promise of financial stability and college tuition. His parents were dead-set against it. "I thought it was a terrible idea," Mejía Godoy recalls. "I asked him, 'What are you going to do if you have to go to war?' But he insisted he needed to do it in order to pay for his school."

Adds Castillo: "The recruiter filled his head with pajaritos that he would see the world and make a lot of friends."

Camilo says he joined the Army to become independent of his parents. "My father was the official singer for the Sandinista Revolution," Camilo says. "I guess I wanted to escape it, find my own way, do my own things, and I found the military. I never really thought I would end up in a real war."

So in 1995, the 19-year-old joined the Army and left for Fort Benning, Georgia.


After basic training, Camilo spent three years of active duty in Fort Hood, Texas. "I was a mechanized infantryman," Camilo relays. "So I was assigned to a Bradley personnel carrier. My unit used to test all the new weapons systems that the Army was buying from government contractors."

When he wasn't playing war with the Bradley, Camilo participated in light infantry drills. One of his exercises was to help carry and load an M60 machine gun. "The M60 is very heavy," Camilo says. "It has an extra spare barrel, a mounting system, and you carry a lot of ammo."

Then a private, Camilo recalls lugging about 100-plus pounds of gear up a hill, then passing through an obstacle course simulating a minefield. Though a three-man team was supposed to carry the M60, he and his partner were required to move it. But he took the tough assignment with humor. "After each exercise, we would have this review session where the people involved gave their opinion on what went well and what went bad," Camilo recalls. "When it was my turn, my reply was, 'I don't know, because there is no team here; I am the team.' Everyone laughed because I was the lowest-ranking private in the room."

But his superiors reprimanded him for not being a team player and ordered push-ups. "I was supposed to suck it up and not be critical," Camilo says. Yet he did well enough to earn ribbons for Army service and national defense, medals for achievement and good conduct, and certificates for good performance and discipline during training exercises before his days at Fort Hood came to an end in late 1998.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Miami Concert Tickets
Loading...