Kids were clearing trash and debris off what looked to be a field, but it was too cluttered to know for sure. Hovering a few thousand feet above, it took a while before the soccer field was visible. In the midst of a warzone where tanks tracked through streets and helicopters flew overhead, a group of Iraqi kids were trying to resume daily life and play ball.
It’s moments like this that veteran Chris Marquez will never forget.
Signing up for the army at the beginning of his senior year of high school was what he had wanted to do since childhood, Marquez says, when his uncle nicknamed him Rambo. It wasn’t until the twin towers fell one month later that the reality of his future deployment set in.
One month after turning 18, Marquez was shipped overseas. In 11 months, he’d spend his19th birthday at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Like millions of other veterans, his mind is flooded with memories that typical civilians will never experience, let alone understand.
People may try to empathize, but Marquez knows there’s an automatic rapport between veterans that only veterans can fully understand. Whether it’s because of shared service experiences or an underlying get-to-the-point, don’t-sugar-coat-anything mentality, veterans relate best to other veterans.
Vantage Mobility understands that bond and started its Veteran Advocate Center. The call center is meant for veterans to interact with other veterans, who then serve as mediators between veterans seeking wheelchair vans and the Department of Veterans Affairs centers across the country.
After eight years of service, traveling everywhere from Colorado, Georgia and Texas to Germany and Iraq, Marquez is now one of these veteran advocates. The 31 year old started in the Customer Advocate Center helping customers before he transferred to the VAC (Veteran Advocate Center), where he celebrated his one year anniversary this month.
He says being a veteran has helped him get through to other vets in ways typical civilians can’t.
“At the end of the day, when you talk to a veteran, they’re a lot more open and more receptive to another veteran. It’s just kind of how we are,” Marquez says. “You know … what they want to hear and what they don’t want to hear and (can) cut out the fluff.”
When he’s not on the phone with the VA or mobility dealerships, Marquez typically speaks with six veterans per day for hours at a time — sometimes helping them through the process, sometimes lending an ear for them to vent and sometimes chatting and sharing service stories.
His eight years in the army prepared him well for his position, but there are still times when Marquez is taken aback listening to customers’ stories.
“Their experiences are so drastic compared to my own,” he says. “I served in combat, but these are Vietnam vets. So, they feel that rapport with me, but when I hear their story, it’s just mind blowing. Like — Wow, you went through 10 times what I saw.”
Marquez says sharing intimate experiences and building conversation before helping a vet gain mobility independence is what makes his job enjoyable.
“To be that link between the VA and our [mobility] dealers and getting the veterans set up with all of their benefits so they can fully use them — I like it. It means a lot to me.”
Marquez says he knows firsthand the difficulties and frustrations people experience with the VA from personal experience. There were certain benefits he says he waited two years to receive because he wasn’t yet accustomed to the process.
“The VA is kind of a daunting task to tackle all by yourself if you have no experience,” Marquez says. “Six months to two years is sometimes how long it can take from start to finish for people to get a vehicle.”
The key to speeding things up, he says, is becoming familiar with the standards and guidelines of each VA center, which is also one of the most challenging factors of his job. He stays committed, though, because he knows a long wait time can deter customers, and the positive change in lifestyle after receiving a handicap van is immeasurable.
“It’s life changing, really … Speaking as a veteran myself, I like to be out. I don’t like to be confined to my house,” he says. “So, having a vehicle like this or any kind of mobility benefit is a blessing, really.”
If you’re a veteran who is looking to chat with Chris or another veteran customer advocate, then fill out this form to schedule a call and learn more about your mobility options.