George Carrillo has moved from banking to social services, with a stop on the political scene in Oregon this spring.
In May, former Marine George Carrillo made Oregon political history as one of the top four candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“I was the first person of color to reach the live debate stage as a gubernatorial candidate” this year, he recalled. “And I have no political background of any kind.”
Carrillo, 43, said he came forward because he believed Oregon could and should do more to support its veterans.
He brings an inside view to his assessment, as he currently works for the Oregon Health Authority as a program manager in its Behavioral Health Services office. In a recent interview, he promoted ideas like better access to mental health services and reduced property taxes for vets.
“Too many of my siblings are either in jail or sitting on the streets, and it’s not fair because they’ve made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said in an interview. “We’ve been asked to do some of the most terrible things imaginable. Yet when we come home, we’re not cared for.”
Carrillo was born in Chicago after his parents immigrated from Ecuador, and he joined the Marines right out of high school.
Military service hadn’t been on his radar.
“I never considered serving. It wasn’t on my roster or anything,” he said.
Carrillo could not afford college, so he sought service.
“I saw an ad for the Marines and ended up walking into a recruiter’s office and really liked what I heard, especially the education benefits,” he said. -he declares.
He was 18, “a hundred pounds drenched”, with no life experience “except being in Catholic school” when he packed his bags to join the Marine infantry in 1997. At the start , Carrillo recalls that he and his new friends would spend their free time daydreaming about life after the military.
“It’s interesting. When you walk in, it’s almost like, man, you can’t wait to get out because it’s so different,” he recalled. “We were all these young kids trying to be men, and we were all talking about what we were going to do with our lives after four years.”
“And then all of a sudden, the world changes.”
Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Carrillo, who had been stationed at the Hawaiian Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, was deployed to Asia. He can’t talk about the specifics of the location or the mission, but he did two almost back-to-back tours. On the second tour he was wounded and left the battlefield to teach at Camp Pendleton. He loved teaching – he calls it his “best time” as a Marine.
“It wasn’t a boot camp or anything. He was talking about war, preparing them. I was a weapons specialist and I was giving them all this advice and tactics about, you know, how to get back to the safe house. I really enjoyed it. It was just the highlight of my career.”
But his injuries needed attention, and after the operation he was sent back to his parents – now in Phoenix – to recuperate. The physical toll was enough for Carrillo to receive an honorable discharge. It only took a few minutes to sign the papers. But the uncertainty of the transition persisted.
“All of a sudden you hurt yourself. And now it’s like, ‘Ok, now you have to start thinking again, what am I going to do?'”
It was a familiar question.
“I found myself in the same place as when I entered the Marine Corps. What am I going to do?”
Carrillo went back to one of the first reasons he found the military attractive: the GI Bill. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, went to school while working in banking at Chase Bank in Phoenix. He was investigating a law school when a professor suggested he consider law enforcement instead. He went for a ride and loved it. For him, it was people-oriented, with the humble responsibility of stepping onto a stage and trying to figure out what was going on.
“I wasn’t necessarily led like, ‘This is what you’re going to do. We’re going to attack this or blow this up,'” he said, contrasting his experience as a Marine with his experience as a Sheriff’s Deputy in Gila County, Arizona. “He was trying to be a problem solver, trying to figure out what happened, knowing that 99.9% of the time I didn’t witness it.”
Carrillo’s wife is originally from Oregon and they moved from Phoenix to the southwest suburb of Portland for her career. At that time, he took a break from paid work to be the primary caregiver for their first child. After about a year, he transitioned into a new career in health and social services at the Oregon Health Authority, where he remains today.
Another political race is still potentially ahead. After losing the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he ended up endorsing Republican candidate Christine Drazan, although he remains registered as a Democrat.
“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, he said. “I’m still a Democrat, but I think we have to be able to do better.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in 2022 Honoring Veteransa special print and online publication by Pamplin Media Group to celebrate veterans’ stories.
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