Alessia Sophia Ruiz is two weeks old, but her father—who is stationed halfway across the world delivering mail—has yet to hold her.
“As we get closer to that date, it seems like time is going slower,” said United States Army Specialist George Ruiz, from Kabul, Afghanistan, where photos of his wife and kids hang by his bedside. The photos allow him to glimpse his family everyday, but simultaneously remind him of what he misses most.
“But the clock is ticking,” Ruiz said. “I’m almost home.”
Home for Ruiz is in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, where his wife Melissa and their son Amiliano and daughter Alessia live.
Ruiz, 26, enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard in December of 2009, and today is stationed at the Resolute Support Headquarters across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In a compound housing 2,500 people from 42 different countries, Ruiz serves in postal operations and helps deliver mail to the service men and women by helicopter.
“Mail is very important out here. It connects the soldiers from the U.S. and all of the coalition forces to their families back home, wherever they may be,” Ruiz said. “The morale of the soldiers when the mail transportation was down … they were very sad. As soon as we got the transportation back, it was a complete 180. I didn’t realize how important mail was, especially back home.”
Prior to Resolute Support, Ruiz was stationed at Bagram Airfield just north of Kabul. For two months, he would routinely engage in postal rodeos, 4-day missions where he and his team would fly on a helicopter “outside of the wire” (or into warzones) to forward operating bases that didn’t have mail amenities. Wearing full military gear, Ruiz would escort the 300-pound Stanley tough box and deliver the mail to various bases.
“It is dangerous. You never know what can happen. It’s just one of those things, where someone has to do it. And I’m proud to say that I’m one of those people who sacrifice their time and effort for it,” Ruiz said. “Personally, I feel honored to be part of the equation of a soldier receiving a package from their family, or whoever it may be. And putting a smile on their face, especially during the holiday season, ‘cause that’s when—in my opinion—you really miss your family.”
Ruiz’s family misses him too.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him. Of course I miss him more than anything. But I know what he’s doing is for a good cause,” said his wife Melissa Ruiz. “Having a baby without him and raising two now, It’s been hard, but I know that our love can overcome anything.”
Made in the Mission
Growing up Mexican-American in the Mission District, Ruiz avoided gang life, an all too often pitfall for inner-city Latino youth.
“The majority of Latinos I believe, including myself, have experienced that issue,” Ruiz said. “That speed bump in life, I was either gonna pick up speed and go over that bump, or fall back. But luckily I was able not fall into the temptation.”
Ruiz was raised in the same apartment complex at 19th and Lexington streets where his mother and her siblings were raised. Attending St. Peter’s at 24th and Alabama streets from kindergarten to 8th grade, Ruiz then went to Leadership High School until his junior year, only to transfer to the continuation high school Thornton High School.
“I was getting a wakeup call my senior year. And I started investing more time in the books, and doing the most I could,” Ruiz said. His education stalled however, as he was unable to finish high school. Ruiz would eventually complete his GED through the United States National Guard.
While in school, Ruiz was a member of PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights). There, he helped start the Gang Injunction Education and Services Program, where community youth confronted the indiscriminate targeting of Black and Latino youth as gang members. He also helped tackle the issue of traffic congestion and pollution caused by unofficial truck routes in the Excelsior District.
“I love George. Here at PODER we try to be like a family,” said PODER Coordinator Teresa Almaguer. “I’m very happy to see him happy with his family. He makes a really good dad. He’s always been good with kids.”
While Ruiz couldn’t be there for his son Ami’s third birthday, he was lucky enough to catch it via facetime. The iPhone feature has allowed him to maintain a relationship with his son.
“Just seeing his face and knowing that he’s OK makes me feel at ease. It’s a scary place to be,” Melissa said. “Facetime has been my best friend throughout this whole experience. I’m just grateful that he can make time to call us. I’m hoping he just shows up on my doorstep.”
Story by: Alexis Terrazas