Iraq War veteran Josue Guerrero-Uribe received a completely refurbished 2017 Hyundai Elantra from Allstate and Caliber Collision in Costa Mesa, CA, late last year as part of the National Auto Body Council (NABC) Recycled Rides™ program.
A retired member of the Marine Corps Infantry, Guerrero-Uribe was nominated by The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization that enables veterans to continue their service in the community through a wide range of philanthropic activities.
With his Elantra, Guerrero-Uribe was able to help more people and pay the gift forward, he said.
"When I saw that the people at NABC, Caliber Collision and Allstate were doing such a wonderful thing for me with this car, I knew that I had to use this vehicle to help others,” he said. “It was a blessing and unexpected, so I realized right there that I could use it to further my work with The Mission Continues.”
Before he received the Recycled Rides vehicle, Guerrero-Uribe said he was spending countless hours on public transportation traveling to participate in his volunteering activities.
"I was taking buses and trains to different events, and then one day I was standing there in the rain and the people at The Mission Continues asked me, ‘How did you get here?’” he said. “When I told them I didn't have a car, they recommended me to the Recycled Rides program, and then one day I got the call."
Since then, he has logged hundreds of hours to help build sports fields and schools and teach financial management and English classes at various schools and libraries to some of Los Angeles County’s poorest residents with The Mission Continues.
Less than 20 years ago, Guerrero-Uribe’s situation was a lot different than it is today.
"I enlisted in the Marines in December 2000 at age 23, and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA, and then things happened quickly after that," he said. "I entered boot camp in January, graduated on Mother's Day, graduated from infantry school on the 4th of July and then joined my platoon in August---all in 2001. And then 9/11 happened. Everything happened so fast; I never even got a chance to unpack my gear."
To prepare for the aftermath of 9/11, Guerrero-Uribe was sent to the Twenty-Nine Palms National Training Center for one year to get ready for the harsh conditions of Iraq. In March of 2003, he became part of the first invasion of Iraq, but prior to that he was sent to Kuwait to construct “Camp Commando” and its entire infrastructure.
"We built everything there; you name it," he said. "It was just sand when we got there. One day, I remember carrying sand bags up to a sniper's tower, and I thought, ‘Wow, we're an easy target right now.’ We were the laborers and also did the security 24/7 at the camp."
When the official bombing on Baghdad began, Guerrero-Uribe and his platoon, (Weapons Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines) in conjunction with the First Marine Expeditionary Force (1MEF) and Regimental Combat Team-1 (RCT-1) became part of a combat team.
"We were the first ones who went through the middle of Iraq and ended up in downtown Baghdad," he said. "We took over the U.N. building in Baghdad, and it was very exciting. We were on autopilot at that point and didn't even know what day it was, but we kept moving."
The next stop was Saddam's palace in Tikkrit, North Iraq, Guerrero-Uribe said.
"They told us that we did such a good job in Baghdad that they were attached to Task Force Tripoli to take down the palace,” he said. “We were the first people there, and it was an amazing and heartbreaking thing to see. Here was a huge palace with waterfalls, marble flooring and gold-plated toilets everywhere, and just right outside the walls there was so much poverty and starvation. So much excess while the rest of Iraq was suffering---it was a humbling experience."
One day in Iraq, Guerrero-Uribe jumped off a truck with a mortar on his shoulder, landing awkwardly and blowing out his hip.
"Something in my leg popped, but I just kept going and ignored it,” he said. “When I got back to the states, I realized that something was really wrong with it."
Guerrero-Uribe got his "five seconds of fame" while deployed in Iraq when he and his platoon were featured in "21 Days to Baghdad," a special produced by the National Geographic Channel.
"I'm at the end of it, saying 'Hi Mom,' and celebrating while carrying a mortar," he said. "So, that's the proof that I was there."
When Guerrero-Uribe’s tour in Iraq ended and he returned to the states, he was suffering from clinical depression and PTSD, among other problems.
"Being in Iraq was a huge rush all the time, so when I got home I couldn't adjust to the 9-to-5 pace of everyday life," he said. "I had lost my tribe, and I was lonely and became very isolated. I was hiding my pain with pain killers and started quitting jobs or getting fired."
In 2015, he checked into the West Los Angeles V.A. Hospital and started turning his life around.
"It saved my life because I didn't want to admit that I was damaged goods,” he said. “I was headed for a dark place and without the help, I might still be there. They enabled me to reset my life and understand all of the things that I was hiding from."
Today, Guerrero-Uribe uses his vehicle to deliver other veterans to volunteer at a wide range of charitable projects through The Mission Continues.
"I load the car up with vets from the Hollywood Veterans Center, and we go out to places like schools to get our hands dirty and build things," he said. "There is something going on pretty much every weekend, and it's a team effort and great therapy."
To continue his mission, Guerrero-Uribe recently submitted a fellow Marine's name for a car through the NABC Recycled Rides Program.
"His name is Mathew Shepherd, and he will be receiving his car this month," he said. "He hasn't missed any events and is working on himself, so he is a perfect candidate for a car, just like I was!"