From there I was dead set on joining. Just seeing him graduate on that day you could tell he was a different person; he'd always been a good guy but he was better, he was my role model.
Paz's military career started with a 59-day infantry training battalion course before being stationed at Camp Pendleton, California with the 2nd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment; he deployed twice to Japan as a part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, both tours lasted six months. A little while after returning home from his second deployment, an opportunity for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) deployment to Bosnia and Hercegovina presented itself. Paz did not know much about NATO, but he did remember advice from one of his Non-Commissioned Officers.
Someone said if you're ever offered a NATO deployment, take it. He didn't say much more than that; he just wanted me to know I'd love it,
NATO's mission is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a NATO Partnership for Peace country and has a military NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo (NHQSa) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, stationed on Camp Butmir. NHQSa's primary mission is to facilitate reform in defense and security structures of BiH, which includes coordinating NATO programs and activities.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Angel Paz, right, driver, stands with U.S. Army Sgt. Adam Vega, left, personal security detail, and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Eric Folkestad, center, Commander of NATO Headquarter Sarajevo prior to the Transfer of Authority ceremony on Camp Butmir, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dec. 7, 2021. The Transfer of Authority is the NATO equivalent of a Change of Command. Brig. Gen. Folkestad transfered authority to U.S. Brig. Gen. Pamela McGaha. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Franklin E. S. Harris Jr.)
The deployment request Paz was selected for was an individual augmentee position. Paz soon realized that he would deploy by himself. This was a different situation from Paz's last two deployments. He previously deployed as a rifleman as well as a squad leader, but he always deployed with fellow marines. Paz decided to volunteer for the deployment and was selected. His job was to serve as a clerk and driver for U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Eric Folkestad, Commander of NHQSa. Paz provided security for the commander on and off base. In order to complete this task as efficiently as possible, he took an anti-terrorism-evasive drivers course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, U.S.A.
"It's like a week and a half course. They teach you evasive maneuvers to do if you ever receive any contact during any mission and give you a brief explanation of how it would work on a larger scale with a bigger team," Paz added. Sgt. Paz would have a primary partner, Vega, who handles planning for the Commander's movement as the Personal Security Detail (PSD). The relationship between the driver and PSD is important and after a year of them working together they have a bond that many people notice.
"We're like brothers. From day one I made suggestions of what we could do better and he heard me out. We have a lot of similarities and a lot of people think we look alike, definitely with us wearing masks," Paz added.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Angel Paz, left, builds a snow with U.S. Army Sgt. Adam Vega, left, while the vehicles warm up in preparation for the NATO Headquarter Sarajevo Transfer of Authority ceremony, Camp Butmir, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dec. 7, 2021. Sgt. Paz and Sgt. Vega were apart of the security detail for the Transfer of Authority ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Franklin E. S. Harris Jr.)
Paz arrived at Camp Butmir on February 6th, 2021 during the Coronavirus pandemic, but the mission kept going. He drove the Commander to various cities around BiH: Breza, Prnjavor, Banja Luka, Mostar, Tuzla, and Zenica. Every trip supported the commander's engagements with ambassadors, the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina soldiers and leadership; these engagements led to improvements on training, structural reforms and military improvements like the donation of four Bell UH-1 "Huey" helicopters to Air Force and Anti-Air Defense Brigade in Rajlovac.
During all of Paz's travels as the commander's driver, he saw religious institutions, historic monuments, and enjoyed the view of cities like Sarajevo, as he stood in the hills of Trebević. He also got the opportunity to taste local foods like ćevapi in Doboj. Paz provided security for every trip and sometimes attended meetings and dinners hosted throughout the country. On one occasion Josip Brkić, Deputy BiH Minister of Foreign Affairs, invited the NATOSa Commander and his support staff to Međugorje, BiH. While in the area they stopped at a local olive grove, where Paz met the owner and tried fresh olive oil.
"He said [olive oil] should have a nice acidity and burns in the back of your throat, then its good olive oil. He had a bowl of olive oil on the table with some bread and cheese and that's what we ate. It was good, it was really good olive oil. Now, I know how olive oil is supposed to be," Paz stated.
Early on, Paz requested an extension on his deployment; six months in BiH became one year, as the commander's driver. He found he enjoyed the country, the culture, and his job. Paz started to build a relationship with other local drivers in the country. These drivers served a variety of military and political figures and shared their stories with him. Paz realized that becoming a permanent driver back in the United States could be a career path for him, and he got a lot of experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Every extension has its limits. Paz began to draft contingency binders and pack his things, because his deployment in BiH was coming to an end. He provided security and support during the Transfer of Authority from U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Eric Folkestad to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Pamela McGaha, the new Commander of NHQSa, as a part of his last few assignments before leaving. Another U.S. Marine would replace him when he left Camp Butmir, but the deployment and his support of an international organization would always be a part of his career. It is an experience that gives merit to advice he received about NATO.
"If you look at the statistics here, there is only one Marine on this camp; in comparison to more Air Force and Army soldiers," Paz explained. "So if you plan on staying in and tell someone 'oh yeah I got a NATO deployment' it means something significant. Not many people get an assignment with NATO."