Shortly after Army Reserve Sgt. Federico G. Borjas arrived in Afghanistan in late September, he called his father to tell him what he saw.
“He said, ‘This place is just like back home,’ ” said Raimundo “Mundo” Borjas, his older brother. “ ‘This is the same moon; these are the same stars.’ ”
Federico Borjas, a 33-year-old San Diego police officer, had always dreamed of serving his country overseas. Last year -- a decade after he completed a stint in the Marines -- he volunteered for the Army Reserve, in part hoping to reach that goal.
Just weeks after Borjas deployed to the Middle East with the San Diego-based 416th Civil Affairs Battalion, 351st Civil Affairs Command, a gunman ambushed his convoy. He died Oct. 16 in Bermel District Center in Afghanistan‘s Paktia province, south of Kabul.
Raimundo Borjas said his brother, known as Rico to family and friends, was a thoughtful man with a big smile and a soft spot for his 11-year-old daughter, Yvette.
His brother had an easy way about him, Raimundo Borjas said, but spent his life looking for challenges.
“He always wanted to excel,” he said.
The brothers acquired their discipline as children growing up in a small town outside Orlando, Fla. They lived in a house next to the orange grove where their parents worked. “It was backwoods,” Raimundo Borjas recalled. “It was the boonies.”
There were few Latinos in town, and the family faced discrimination, he said.
“They just kind of pushed us to the side,” he said of their neighbors. “We grew up pretty rough.”
Their father, who also was a Baptist pastor, pressed his children to work hard. He told them they should never do anything halfway.
“We’d go to school, come home, do our homework and then go out and help our family in the fields,” Raimundo Borjas said.
Federico Borjas followed him into the Marines, joining at age 18.
“We had heard that the Marine Corps was the hardest to get into and the most respected,” Raimundo Borjas said. “We wanted to challenge ourselves.”
After four years of service, Federico Borjas left to join the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, serving as a corrections deputy in Otay Mesa. A few years later, he joined the San Diego Police Department. He served on its prestigious SWAT team and, later, its color guard.
But he wanted more.
“SWAT is the ultimate, but he still didn’t think that was enough,” his brother said. “He wanted to be more honorable.”
Raimundo Borjas said he sees a lot of his brother in Yvette, his only child from a marriage that ended in divorce.
“She has her father’s attitude and her father’s strength,” Raimundo Borjas said of his niece. “She has a strong heart.”
Before his brother left San Diego, the family held a goodbye party.
“I gave my brother a kiss on his cheek and a hug,” said Raimundo Borjas, who traveled from Arizona, where he works as a Border Patrol agent, to attend. He said that when he embraced his brother, he felt tears in his eyes.
“I don’t cry, but some force hit me,” Raimundo Borjas said. “I said, ‘You’re my only brother and I love you. Come back.’ ”
Federico Borjas held his brother at arm’s length and said, “Don’t worry.”
Raimundo Borjas said he will never forget watching Yvette the day of the funeral, which was attended by about 1,000 mourners, including San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and hundreds of law enforcement officials from around the state.
“She went to the casket and said, ‘Can I touch his face?’ ” Raimundo Borjas recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, mija, touch his face, touch his hand. Remember him. This was your father.’ ”
In addition to his daughter, brother and father, Federico Borjas is survived by his mother and two sisters. He was buried with full military honors at on San Diego’s Point Loma.