Soldier’s life parallels his father’s in many ways

In many ways, Donald Ornelas’ life has paralleled that of his father’s.

When Ornelas graduates from Cal State Long Beach this May, he will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of his father’s graduation from a university.

Just like his father, it took Ornelas four years to finish his education.

After Ornelas graduated high school, his father died. Ornelas said he wasn’t able to get to know his father as much as he would have liked.

But then Ornelas signed up for the army, mirroring his father’s life plan.

“The more I found out the similarities of our lives, the more I felt connected to him,” he said.

Ornelas stayed in the army for five years and fought in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Ornelas’ father had enlisted in the Air Force a few years after he graduated high school and fought in Korea.

“They’re not Earth-shattering coincidences, but it’s kind of funny how it happened,” Ornelas said.

After he left the army, Ornelas worked as a police officer for nearly 19 years. He started a family with his wife and has five children.

Ornelas divorced his wife after 10 years of marriage. Like his father, Ornelas was a single parent.

He went back to the army in 2003 and is currently serving.
Ornelas said that at the age of 38, he realized he had to go back to school and earn his bachelor’s degree.

“My father was always pro-education,” he said. “They can never take your education away from you.”

Ornelas first attended Compton College for two years. He learned that his father also attended a junior college for two years before starting at CSULB.

Ornelas said going back to school was a professional development for him.

“I was already working as a policeman,” Ornelas said. “I wanted to take it a step further.”

Ornelas said that it was interesting going to college with students that could be his children.

“All these things that college students go through didn’t exist back in my day,” Ornelas said.

It was also tough balancing his family, a job and school, Ornelas said. He said there were a few moments when he wanted to give up.

“The last couple of semesters, I didn’t feel like doing it anymore,” he said.

However, he said his life experiences and children kept him motivated.

“I’m refocused,” he said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I realize how close I am to finishing.”

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