*This is the unabridged version of an article I wrote for the Wingspan newspaper. The published version can be found here in the July 13 edition.
As an Army paralegal and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, Christopher Castillo learned that maneuvering across the battlefield can mirror life.
A Corpus Christi native and 1994 graduate of Carroll High School, Castillo decided early on that academia would be his key to building a successful foundation for his future.
“After I graduated from high school here, I was accepted and attended Texas A&M for two years,” Castillo said. “Due to some challenges happening at home with my family, I came back to Corpus Christi for a couple of years before deciding to attend Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma.”
Castillo graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies with a minor in non-profit business in 2001.
A few months after graduating from college, 9/11 took place.
“At 25 years old, I talked to Air Force, Navy, and Army recruiters,” Castillo said. “I was a recent college graduate and had gotten married in February 2002. So, how was I going to support my family as well?”
The Army offered to pay off of his college loans which helped seal the deal for him.
He said he chose to be a paralegal when enlisting because he felt he would get the most out of an Army education, “plus, if I knew all of the rules I would know whether I’m breaking them or not.”
The Army sent him to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training followed by his advanced individual training.
“After my initial training which was quite long, I was stationed at Fort Sill (Oklahoma),” Castillo said. “I was assigned to 212th Field Artillery Brigade, at their legal shop.”
Castillo quickly found out that not everyone is excited about the “educated” new guy.
He said his first non-commissioned officer supervising him told him upfront, “I know you think you are smarter than the rest of us, but you’re not.” That set a bit of a dark tone that Castillo knew he would have to work around if he wanted to climb the ladder of success in the Army.
Of course as any service member knows, people come and go, and it would not be long until Castillo received a new supervisor who set him up to achieve.
“My new NCO came in and immediately made sure I was able to attend the promotion board, so that was fairly relieving, a much better experience for me as a whole,” he said.
For the most part, Castillo said his time spent at Fort Sill was fairly quiet and without incident.
He did continue his education, using the Army’s tuition assistance policy that paid for him to complete his Masters of Business Administration from Cameron University.
“My thought was that even though my first NCO wanted to stand in my way from being promoted and advancing in the Army, I was going to make the most out of my time there. Edith (Castillo’s wife) also finished her degree while we were there.”
Edith had also spent time in the Army and was serving in the Army Reserves when she and Castillo first met.
“She did a couple of years on active duty,” he said. “She was assigned to Vilseck, Germany, and then came back to Corpus to finish up with the Reserves.”
Castillo left the Army in January 2006, moving his family from Lawton, Oklahoma, back to Corpus Christi.
“At first it was tough finding a job,” he said. “Edith got a job really quickly, but I had to take unemployment for some time and then a position with Walgreens after a while. Having my MBA, my expectations were set a little higher.
“That spring, I continued with my education by taking classes to attain my certified public account license.”
At this time, he also became interested in a career in real estate.
“I spent two months going to Del Mar college taking real estate courses to get my real estate license,” Castillo said. “I still did not have a job, so I was staying focused on educating myself more and more.”
About a year later, he got a phone call from the Social Security Administration, which happened to be recruiting veterans to work for them.
He has now been with SSA for 10 years and serves as an operations supervisor. He said that most of his efforts go into supervision of other employees within his department and aiding social security applicants or those having issues with receiving their benefits.
In 2008, after being out of the Army for two years, Castillo was called back to serve.
“We had just come back from vacation and at the house there was a certified mail letter from the Army.”
Due to still being in the Individual Ready Reserve, which is a standard eight year time frame for any individual from the date they initially take the oath of enlistment or commission, the Army called Castillo back.
Overall, the Army recalled more than 25,000 troops from the IRR after September 2011.
“Of course it was a shock to the system because we were just reestablishing ourselves at home,” he said.
The Army sent him to Fort Jackson, once again, to a type of “acclimation camp” for personnel being recalled to active duty. The training was conducted under Task Force Marshall and is ongoing still at the Army’s largest training post.
Castillo completed his refresher training and then headed to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to join up with the National Guard 168th Engineer Brigade he would soon deploy with in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The unit departed Shelby for Afghanistan in January 2009.
Castillo spent much of his time in Afghanistan assigned to Forward Operating Base Sharana, a sprawling compound in the southeastern region of the country’s Paktika Province, near the border of Pakistan.
Besides his day-to-day mission supporting the brigade legal team, he frequently pulled guard duty as sergeant-of-the-guard. Additionally, he went from the brigade-level shop to the battalion level, becoming the primary paralegal for that unit.
In June, during the deployment, Castillo pinned on Staff Sergeant a few months before redeploying back to the United States.
Once he returned for demobilization, he said he did consider re-enlisting for a few years.
Instead, Castillo started up his own real estate brokerage firm, Castle Realty, in October 2010, while also returning to work at SSA.
“Helping people find a home they are happy with, turning the sometimes far reaching goal of buying a home, is something I get a lot of pleasure out of,” Castillo said.
“Chris is a generous person, he will always give up more than he ever receives,” Edith said about her husband.
Currently, Castillo is fighting the greatest battle of his life: colon cancer. He was diagnosed in January of this year.
“It took a few visits to the doctor to finally get the diagnosis right. At first, I was told I was “stage two” but after a trip to MD Anderson (Cancer Center in Houston) they said I was “stage three.”
Initially, Castillo and Edith were naturally upset and did not know what to make of the diagnosis. Castillo said it’s important to always have a contingency plan so he did not feel he had to make the world move in order to prepare for the worst.
“The doctors said I originally had a golf ball-sized tumor pressing up against the wall of my colon and the cancer had spread into my lymph nodes,” he stated. “After the first round of treatment, including the chemotherapy and radiation, the next tests came back stating the lymph nodes were no longer swollen and they could not find the tumor.”
He recently started a new round of chemotherapy and is able to work from home for SSA for the time being.
“The prognosis is pretty good, I think,” Castillo said. “So I’ll go through these rounds and hopefully it eradicates whatever may be left. The only fear is that if the cancer has the ability to fight the medicine, it will come back more aggressive.”
Throughout all of this, Castillo does not slow down meeting clients to help them attain their dream of owning a home or selling a home through Castle Realty. He continues to work daily for SSA ensuring his mission is complete, just as he did while wearing Army green.
Castillo and Edith have a son, Max, who is 22 years old. Edith is Max’s biological mother and Castillo adopted him “as his own” when Max was 7. They own a home in the Annaville area of Corpus Christi, raising a few chickens for produce on their land, and loving on their beloved dogs.