I’d dropped out of high school and was working as a juggler and magician to help support my mom when I met Laura. She and I were young, and we fell in love quickly. She was the one who introduced me to the restored gospel.
I’d visited other churches while growing up in Beeville, Texas, but I’d felt a burning sensation like nothing else as the missionaries were teaching me. In fact, I surprised them by memorizing all 13 Articles of Faith in the two days between our first and second lessons. Two months later, I was baptized.
Soon Laura and I were married, and I wanted a job with more stability. So I decided to enlist in the Navy. I traveled to San Antonio, where new candidates stayed in an old, decrepit hotel for a night before shipping off to boot camp in Orlando, Florida, in the morning. And I was nervous—really nervous.
I wanted a priesthood blessing from Elder Baeza and Elder Clark, the elders who had taught me. So I walked to the nearest grocery store, opened up a phonebook, and looked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But there were numerous stakes listed and I didn’t know where my elders had been transferred to. I decided to still give it a chance, though, and threw a quarter in the phone booth and called one of the numbers. No answer. Dejected, I hung up the phone and walked out of the store.
As I’m walking out—and this is a true story—Elder Baeza comes walking into the store with his new companion. He give me a big hug and tells me that Elder Clark was living in the same apartment complex he was. So they got special permission to be with me that night before boot camp and gave me a blessing. I knew that was Heavenly Father looking out for me and helping me get on my way to do great things.
Eight years later, I actually went back to Texas as a Navy recruiter. And I saw how many young candidates would come to the hotel before boot camp, only to disappear by morning. I remember feeling all those nervous emotions, wondering if I was doing the right thing. But running into the elders put me at peace, and I am so grateful because my decision to stay changed my life for the better.
I ended up having a 33-year career in the Navy that provided the stability I’d always wanted for Laura, as well as for the three children we later welcomed to our family. I became a commander, served as the maintenance officer for the US Navy Blue Angels, and was the right-hand man for the Air Wing Commander, among other positions.
I also earned a bachelor’s degree in technical management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a school people call the Harvard of the sky. Then I received a master’s in engineering and technical management from Texas A&M University—the school I’d heard my old friends dream about back when I was dropping out of high school.
The foundation the gospel gave me was superbly important, not just the night before boot camp but during all the challenging times in my career. I was able to face adversity with grace and poise when I was out at sea because I knew my purpose in life. My determination to succeed came from knowing there was nothing I couldn’t do as long as the Savior was at my side.