Dearborn Native Enlisted After 9/11, But Continues to Serve Out of Patriotism
Sgt. Steven Balderrama has served nine years in the Air Force and Army. From his station in Iraq, he told Dearborn Patch why he does it and what he misses about his hometown.
Every military service member has different reasons why they decide to enlist, whether it’s to gain funding for college, to continue a family tradition or just to get a good job to support their family. For U.S. Army Sergeant and Dearborn native Steven Balderrama, his reasons were clear.
“I decided to enlist back in 2002 because of Sept. 11,” he says without hesitation. “Mostly it was patriotic pride, at the time. Being from Dearborn, I had a big connection with the Muslim community. So after 9/11, I got involved to just kind of work through it.”
Since then, Balderrama, an Edsel Ford High School graduate and the first member of his family to enlist, has served four tours of duty–two in the Air Force and two in the Army, including his current assignment, which has him stationed in Iraq as a petroleum specialist. Like many service members, he doesn’t know when he’ll come home to his family in Dearborn next, nor has he decided if this deployment will be his last.
Despite his lengthy time of service, when Balderrama does take leave, he is greeted with little media or political fanfare. But that’s the way he likes it.
“I usually just spend time with family and close friends … we stay close and private,” he says. “I only get 30 days of leave a year, so I’m only home once or twice a year–if that.”
Balderrama says he’s always surprised at how quickly his hometown changes between visits–from new stores and restaurants to his own perception of the city and culture.
“I’ve always loved Dearborn,” he says. “But now that I’ve spent so much time in the Middle East, I understand the culture a lot better than I did when I was a teenager growing up there. What didn’t make sense before makes perfect sense now.”
Also perfectly clear for Balderrama are his reasons for serving, which he says haven’t changed much in the decade since 9/11.
“I still feel that I have a call to serve; I still enjoy serving,” he says. “As far as serving because of 9/11, that was a great choice. But today, I’m just serving because it’s the right thing to do for my country.”
But for Balderrama, though his path in life is easy to discuss, he has a hard time putting his reflections on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11–the day that decided his future–into words.
“The last nine years of my life, I’ve spent as a result of 9/11,” he says. “I think I’ve made the right choices … but I feel like the world has moved on, and my world has moved on since then. In 10 years, that chapter is closed now. It’s time to move on.”