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Hispanics in Washington are the most affluent in the nation

Careers for former troops

Charles Vela is a Salvadoran-born research engineer who runs his own consulting company.
Charles Vela is a Salvadoran-born research engineer who runs his own consulting company. (The Washington Post - Bill O'Leary)

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Defense contractors are another big draw for Hispanics, particularly those who were military officers. Hispanics make up about 12 percent of all enlisted personnel and 5 percent of all officers, according to David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland.

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Rick Gonzalez might not be in Washington if he hadn't been a Marine. He first came to the area in 1983, fresh out of Bowling Green State University, to attend officer candidate school at Quantico. He learned computer systems in the military and returned to Washington 13 years later as an IT manager at a company started by a retired colonel he had worked with.

Today Gonzalez is chief information officer in the Alexandria offices of CTSC, a company that is given special government consideration because it is owned by Alaska natives. He lives with his wife and daughter in a four-bedroom, four-bath house in Stafford, with a living room, family room, game room, movie room and home gym. He has three cars and vacations at a timeshare in Myrtle Beach, S.C. His younger son attends Bowling Green.

He has the kind of life his parents, a foundry worker and a homemaker, could only dream of.

His father, Julio, grew up in a tin-roofed shack perched on rocks and stilts in rural Puerto Rico, but he moved his growing family to Lorain, Ohio, in the late 1950s to work in its mills and factories. As recently as the 1980s, the Puerto Ricans of Lorain were among the nation's wealthiest Hispanic communities because of the factory jobs.

While six of his 12 siblings also attended college, Gonzalez was the first to get a bachelor's degree. "They said they were going to make sure we got an education," Gonzalez said, recalling his parents' desire for him to become a lawyer and give back to the community.

He is 49 now, an age when he can see retirement on the horizon. He said he won't stick around here.

"I'm going to go back to Ohio and help kids," he said. "They need it back there more."

morelloc@washpost.com keatingd@washpost.com


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