Rep. Salud Carbajal now walks the halls of the US Capitol, carrying reminders of the little boy whose family immigrated to America from Mexico with him along the way.
The youngest of seven children, Carbajal gleaned important life lessons from the sacrifices made by his parents. Carbajal went on to serve eight years in the Marine Corps Reserve and is seeking a third term as a Democratic congressman from California.
The twin pillars of his family and the military shaped his value system, Carbajal said.
“My brother was active-duty Marines, and that had a big influence on me before I joined,’’ said Carbajal, who rose to the rank of sergeant. “The second reason [I enlisted] was that as an immigrant, you can’t help but to think of ways that you can pay back your ticket and the loyalty for the opportunity that this country’s given you.’’
Carbajal turned 56 in November, two weeks after the general election. It has been nearly three decades since he was mobilized to North Carolina during the Gulf War in 1992. He was part of a combat replacement battalion but never went overseas.
Carbajal sits on the House Armed Services Committee. In 2017, the newly-elected representative spearheaded the awarding of a $975,000 grant for veterans fighting substance-abuse and mental-health issues in his district, which includes Santa Barbara. Carbajal also has backed legislation to curb homelessness among veterans.
Carbajal is a member of the For Country Caucus, a bipartisan group of 21 veterans in Congress seeking to bridge the divide across the political aisle. Reps. Don Bacon (R-Nebraska) and Jimmy Panetta (D-California) serve as co-chairmen of the caucus. Bacon is an Air Force veteran, and Panetta, the son of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, was in the Navy Reserve.
“As a veteran, having served gives you a broader perspective that transcends politics when at all possible,’’ Carbajal said. “That’s helped me forge a great relationship [with] both Democrats and Republicans that comes from those values of the military man, that you’re not always looking for the partisan angle, rather, ‘What’s in the best interest of our country?’’’
Scott McGolpin, the director of public works for Santa Barbara County, served with Carbajal in the reserves. He witnessed the impact that Carbajal had on other reservists then and when he served as the county’s first district supervisor.
Carbajal’s approach to trying to improve his constituents’ lives is rare, McGolpin said.
“People don’t really think of government as being customer service, per se, and one of his mantras was, ‘Outstanding customer service every time,’’’ McGolpin said. “He drove that into an organization of 4,200 people. That stuck with me.’’
Carbajal was born in Moreleon, Mexico. His family immigrated to Arizona, where his father worked in an underground copper mine. The family moved to Oxnard, California, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Carbajal’s dad found a job as a farmworker while his mother ran the household despite battling a deliberating disease that deformed her hands. (Roughly 1.3 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis.) Carbajal described his mother as the family’s “air traffic controller’’ and his father as “one of the hardest-working individuals with the highest integrity that I ever met.’’
“My mother and father were a great duo,’’ he said.
Their influence rubbed off on their son. McGolpin recalled the time his unit was training in Hawaii. Carbajal wanted to do something special for the other Marines, so he organized a special tour aboard Chinook helicopters, McGolpin said.
For 1½ hours, the Marines were treated to a wondrous view of the island.
“[Veterans] just want them and their families to be taken care of and to be respected and to receive equal opportunities like everyone else,’’ Carbajal said.Read comments