Seymour man overcomes adversity to serve his country


From a young age, Gerardo Castillo experienced adversity.

His mother died when he was 3. He moved from Mexico to the United States when he was 12 and had to learn English and adapt to a new country. He tried to join the military after graduating from high school but was disqualified because he had had a kidney stone 10 years prior.

With each challenge, fortunately, he was able to overcome.

His father later remarried, and Castillo’s stepmother raised him all through his school years. With the help of his teachers, Castillo learned English. And after trying to enlist in different military branches, a National Guard recruiter finally gave him a shot.

On July 28, Castillo, 27, graduated from infantry school. Now, he’s looking forward to a long career in the National Guard and also going through the process to become a police officer and enroll in college.

The Seymour man said some people make excuses when faced with adversity in life. He hasn’t.

“It’s hard, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “Hopefully, everything works out. I want to better myself.”

When he moved to America, Castillo lived in Columbus and enrolled at Northside Middle School. He said it took him awhile to learn the language.

Once he worked with two English as a second language teachers his seventh grade year, he really felt comfortable with speaking English. That class included kids from Mexico, China and Japan.

“They both taught us really good, and I think that’s where I got better at it,” Castillo said.

His sophomore year, he transferred to Jennings County High School, where he went on to graduate in 2015. After that, he said college was too expensive, so he just worked to help his family.

All the while, joining the military remained in the back of his mind.

“My aunt and uncle, my grandpa from my dad’s side, they were in the military in Mexico,” Castillo said. “They are retired from there. I always saw my uncle’s uniform, so since I was little, I was like, ‘I want to be part of that.’”

When he began to pursue the military, he said he went through every branch to see which one would take him. The Navy did, but it didn’t offer what he wanted.

Once he found Staff Sgt. Destiney Brown in 2019, she helped him through the process of enlisting in the National Guard. Fortunately, the rule changed to where a kidney stone doesn’t impact enlistees because they need people to serve, he said.

“I was happy to be able to get in,” he said.

Castillo was sworn in in December 2022 and went to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, for three months so he could get a higher score on the ASVAB test.

After that, he went to Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, for infantry school.

“You get really disciplined,” Castillo said. “They teach you how to survive in the middle of war pretty much.”

He had never been camping or hiking, and during training, they stayed in the field for a week and did road marches, so he got a taste of both of those experiences.

“It was just a new experience. I did like it a lot,” Castillo said.

At graduation, he was happy to have his wife, Evelin Rodriguez Barradas, there. It also was a proud moment for him because he accomplished what he set out to do despite people telling him he couldn’t do it.

“I was really happy, honestly,” he said. “You feel like you want to cry because there were a lot of people, even in my family, they are like, ‘Just get over it. You’re not going to be a soldier. You’re never going to make a soldier.’”

He was able to prove them wrong and prove to himself that he could overcome adversity.

“I know I’m 27 and it’s a little bit older for joining, but still, I made it happen,” Castillo said.

Next, he has to spend a weekend at the National Guard headquarters in Indianapolis, and then he will start monthly training in Salem in September.

“I just have to go there once a month to train and be prepared for anything because you never know when they are going to call you,” Castillo said. “My drill sergeant always told us ‘Train like if tomorrow you’re going to get deployed,’ so just be prepared for anything.”

His ultimate goal is to go to airborne school and ranger school and later join special forces.

“I always thought it was cool seeing the guys in the movies and videos jumping out of airplanes. I want to try it,” he said.

In hopes of fulfilling one of his other goals, Castillo said he plans to go through the Seymour Police Department’s physical agility testing Saturday at Trinity Lutheran High School in hopes of being on his way to becoming a police officer.

“I’ll give it a try and see what happens. I’m just going to give it a shot,” he said. “I feel physically ready because I just got back from (infantry school) running and road marching, pushups, situps.”

He also has applied at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus and hopes to start classes there in January. He wants to major in criminal justice and minor in psychology with plans to become a detective.

Castillo said he joined the military and wants to be in law enforcement so he can help people. He hopes to one day retire from both.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “Hopefully, I will like (the National Guard) that long and retire from there. If I get hired as a cop, I want to retire from the police, too.”

He hopes his many times overcoming adversity inspires others to pursue their dreams.

“Just think about your goal and work for it,” he said. “Don’t give up, and keep going until you make it.

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