Project Description

Otto Cruz

Associate in Arts

Over the past five years, more than 500 veterans have prepared for new careers following their military service though Yakima Valley College’s Veterans Program, which helps service men and women receive assistance and support using their GI Bill benefits. Students such as former Washington Army National Guard soldier Otto Cruz of Union Gap have used YVC’s program to earn a post-secondary credential and prepare for well-paying, in-demand careers in the Yakima Valley.

Cruz who is an Indigenous Mayan, was born in Guatemala and grew up in the jungles of Quetzaltenango, Atitlan and Guatemala City. In 1978 he migrated with his mother to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. He attended junior high and graduated from Eisenhower High School in Yakima before enlisting in the National Guard.

“I served in the Army National Guard for 24 ½ years here in Washington State,” stated Cruz. “The Army National Guard is the best kept secret in each and every state in the United States. The mission of the National Guard is to protect and serve life and personal property of the American citizens.”

After his military career ended, Cruz decided to return to school at YVC and retrain for a new career.

“The Veteran Retraining Program helped me by paying my tuition, books and supplies needed to accomplish higher education,” he said. “This program also provided me with additional funding to help with everyday expenses.”

Cruz found additional support on campus through YVC’s tutoring center, math lab and library. He also was instrumental in restarting the Veterans Club on campus, serving as the club’s president for three years. After graduating from YVC, Cruz went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at Central Washington University.

He encourages other local veterans to take the next step and find the support they need at YVC as well.

“This is a great opportunity for higher education which will help with good paying jobs,” Cruz said. “Education is important and no matter what field you pursue it has great learning benefits to enhance oneself at a personal level. The support I received at YVC helped build a hard-working foundation for me and a road map that I can follow for success.”

Ultimately, Cruz hopes to continue supporting veterans in the Yakima Valley.

“I have lived in Yakima since 1978 and would like to keep supporting my veteran brothers and sisters. Our group has a suicide rate of 22 a day [nationwide] and I would like to have a part in bringing that number down to zero or close to it.”