While it was the beginning of an amazing life journey, my life as a kid was a relatively standard experience. I was born in Granada Hills in 1976 during the year of our nation’s bicentennial celebration, and as a first-generation American (my dad immigrated from Mexico in 1959), I was exposed to the diverse cultures and abundant opportunities of Southern California early on.

From an early age, I watched my dad and grandfather work from the ground up after coming to a new country with just the clothes on their backs. As a kid, I’d join them out on construction sites laying concrete for curbs and gutters, getting the callouses on my hands and really learning the value of hard work. Coming from Mexico, they truly appreciated having the opportunity to live the American Dream.

While my parents divorced when I was 7 years old, I was blessed with 2 stable, loving and supportive households. My mom was so strong and I respect her for staying resilient and holding my brother and me accountable during that critical phase. She re-married in 1983 and we moved to Saugus. We were a lower middle income family, and my stepdad was an LAPD officer and Vietnam veteran and my mom worked as a bookkeeper. They understood the value of a dollar, and they earned every dollar they had. We didn’t take anything for granted, and I learned quickly that hard work was the key to success in this country.

From a young age, I was an entrepreneur. When I was 13, I would sell sodas to the construction workers who were building homes up and down Copper Hill Drive in Saugus. I put a large ice chest on a golf pull cart and I made a tidy profit selling 200-300 cans each day. I delivered the coldest drinks possible directly to the framers while they hammered away on the new houses. It was hard work but was a wildly successful first business. In high school, I worked at Lampost Pizza and saved up to buy my first car, a 1973 Porsche 914 (the “poor man’s” Porsche), for $1,000 in 1991. These early experiences taught me my first lessons about profit margin, buying and selling a product, and adding value and customer service.

I spent my youth dreaming of flying. When I wasn’t riding my bike outside, I would build model airplanes, I would go to the air shows at Edwards Air Force base, and I would take every opportunity to learn about aviation. It was an addiction. (Fun fact: To this day you may catch me “flying my hands” and pretending to “land” my hand on a table or handrail.) In the mid-1980s, my parents took me on a tour of the USS Ranger aircraft carrier. I knew at that moment that I wanted to fly fighter jets for the Navy. The release of the movie TOPGUN in 1986 sealed the deal for me, and there was nothing else I wanted to do.

Most of my early years were focused that one goal: becoming a Naval Aviator. From the age of 10, I had been told that if I wanted to fly in the Navy, I needed to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. While this obviously wasn’t the only path to fly, this did give me a road map and I put the blinders on to get there. I was told that Annapolis was impossible to get accepted to, tougher to graduate from, and even harder to earn a flying spot after doing so.

What no one told me was the odds of becoming a fighter pilot were lower than becoming a professional athlete! So, for a decade, I studied hard, played sports (primarily Hart baseball), and made sure I did everything to develop myself into a well-rounded applicant. The Naval Academy doesn’t just want smart kids, they want young men and women who are multidimensional and can communicate and lead.

Ultimately, I graduated at the top of my class at Saugus High in 1994 and I was in fact accepted to Annapolis, with the nomination of then-freshman Congressman Buck McKeon.

I truly benefited from growing up in an area of Southern California that is as close to utopia as you can get. I benefited from the embrace and support of the most amazing family and best friends that a young man could have. I learned to truly love this country after seeing my dad and grandpa become successful by digging ditches and pouring concrete. I lived and saw firsthand what the American Dream looked like and those experiences gave me a deep appreciation for this community and country that still lives with me today!