From Philippines To Afghanistan: A Soldier's Story

Spc. Bryan Maximo dreamed of being a soldier when he was a young boy in the Philippines and heard stories of his grandfather, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Maximo came to the U.S. and worked hard studying English. He wanted to become an infantryman. Last month, he suffered a concussion in an explosion in Afghanistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We continue now with our occasional series Those Who Serve. It's a look at men and women in uniform at a time when less than half of one percent of Americans serve in the military.

SPECIALIST BRYAN MAXIMO: My name is Specialist Bryan Maximo.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tom Bowman spoke with Specialist Maximo, a native of the Philippines, at a dusty outpost in Afghanistan.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Bryan Maximo imagined himself as an American soldier before he even stepped foot in the United States.

MAXIMO: It's my dream since I was a kid to join the military.

BOWMAN: Maximo remembers his grandfather pulling out a large map and spreading it across a table at their home on the Philippine island of Luzon.

MAXIMO: From my understanding, he traveled a lot too. Like we came here. You know, I've been here.

BOWMAN: His grandfather would point to the many places he visited when he wore an American military uniform.

MAXIMO: He served in World War II. He's a driver.

BOWMAN: But in a different era, in another American war, Bryan Maximo wanted more - not just any military job. He wanted to be in a ground unit, close to the action.

MAXIMO: Infantry is my thing.

BOWMAN: Maximo is 26 - older than most junior soldiers here. He graduated from college in the Philippines with a criminology degree. A few years ago, he married a Filipino-American and became a U.S. citizen. Together, he and his wife moved to San Jose, where Maximo worked for a time as a security guard. But he saw himself as a warrior.

MAXIMO: I want to become a bad ass.

BOWMAN: He seems nothing like a bad ass. He's short with a plump face and a giggle that often punctuates his sentences of labored English. And his first goal was to polish his English. The army sent him to a special language course before the physical rigors of basic training. He eventually made it to one of the toughest and most storied infantry units in the Army, the 82nd Airborne Division. And now he's on his first combat deployment to Afghanistan. His base is in the middle of a Taliban haven in eastern Afghanistan. Enemy rockets and mortars sometimes sail over the sandbag walls. On most days, Maximo and his fellow soldiers from Delta Company push out in their armored vehicles across a flat, open plain to search villages for insurgent fighters and their supplies. And one day last month, Maximo was manning a machine gun in one of the turrets as the convoy rolled back to base. Suddenly a massive explosion - a roadside bomb.

MAXIMO: I didn't even see the blast. I didn't even see the boom. And I just woke up. I thought I'm dreaming. And my sergeant pulling me out of the truck. They know that I'm dead or something.

BOWMAN: He was airlifted to a nearby American military hospital. It turns out Maximo suffered just a mild concussion. He called his wife, May(ph) , and could hear her crying.

MAXIMO: I say I'm fine. I'm good.

BOWMAN: He told his three-year-old daughter Maha(ph) that he loved her and missed her. And Maximo told his family not to worry, that he could handle all this.

MAXIMO: I like it. This is my dream. I want to be in military, so I did it. So this is it now. So I am happy.

BOWMAN: And with that, Specialist Bryan Maximo picked up his weapon and went back to work as a soldier. Tom Bowman, NPR News.

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