Carlos Saldana is the epitome of service to his community and country.
The 25-year-old from Los Angeles spent Saturday afternoon surrounded by friends and family during the graduation ceremony for Glendale Community College's Verdugo Fire Academy. Saldana's time at the academy was interrupted by a tour with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.
The other 28 members of the graduating "Class 13" worked 12-hour days each weekend in 2010 to complete the necessary training to become a state-certified firefighter.
Saldana, however, entered the academy in January 2008 but was called to begin training as a Marine Corps reserve and deploy to the Middle East.
Working with Verdugo Fire Academy Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna, Saldana left the academy and reentered with his graduating class this year.
"Saldana is a very good example of someone who has the desire to serve," DiGiovanna said. "He was pulled out of the academy and served our country, and he still had a burning desire to be a firefighter and serve our community."
The 29 graduates who made it through the entire academy, from an original class of 56 people, are now eligible to become cadets or reserves with any fire department in the state, DiGiovanna said.
DiGiovanna stepped aside to allow the graduates share the impact of their grueling year-long experience for supporters in the audience, as well as the incoming class of academy trainees.
"I remember my first day," said John Jenkins, speaking to the members of Class 14 who lined the aisles inside the Glendale College Auditorium. "I was cold, frightened, confused, and I was just trying to find parking."
Amid jokes and stories of perseverance, the academy's 13th class of recruits all spoke of the brotherhood the 29 men now shared and the sacrifices they experienced together.
Shane Baker, who originally enrolled in Class 11 but dropped out before completion, spoke about the need to complete what he started two years before.
"This is what I have to do," Baker said. "I knew I had to come back."
Although every graduation brings tears to College Supt.-President Dawn Lindsay's eyes, the current graduates have a special place in her memory after Class 13 helped with cleanup following a mudslide in February.
"We had 1 to 3 inches of mud and water in some classrooms," Lindsay said. "By the time I got there, they had stepped up and taken care of it."