|Dr. Jaime A. Romero, Jr.|
Romero is fluent in Spanish and is a Major in the Tennessee Army National Guard Dental Corp Reserves.
Romero told HispanicNashville.com about his family, working as a child, returning to education, joining the military, and generally how he got to Cool Springs. "When I look back at my short life, he says, "I realize how lucky I am to be where I am, to have the profession I have and to have the love of my family and friends."
Dr. Romero's story - as he tells it - is below, starting with an introduction to his family.
The Romero family
Back row (L-R): Jaime Romero (Jr.), Juan, Jesus and Jose
Front row: father Jaime (Sr.) and mother Rosa
My father was born in Santa Barbara, California, and my mother was born in Tijuana, Mexico.
All of my grandparents were born in Mexico, and many of my uncles and aunts are also from Mexico. My paternal grandfather joined the U.S. Army and that was how my father was born in the U.S. which made things easier for us. Even with U.S. citizenship, my father was raised in Mexico and he met my mother in Tijuana. Once married my mother got her immigration papers and they lived in San Ysidro, California.
No one in my family had a college degree. In fact, graduating from high school was a rare occurrence. My mother had a 6th grade education and my father had taken some college courses at a local community college.
|Childhood photos of Jaime Romero|
I had the normal life that most kids in that area had. We were poor, but we had a very strong family bond. Being poor gave me a great appreciation for things. Whenever we had new shoes or clothes it was like Christmas, and by new, I mean hand me downs from friends or family.
We moved across the country from Tijuana, Mexico (a city south of San Diego) to Montemorelos, Mexico (a city just south of McAllen, Texas) for my father to start college. What we didn’t know was that this move was the beginning of a struggle that could’ve derailed my dreams.
|Living in a van, 6th grade|
I started the 6th grade just like any other kid would. It was new but I adapted pretty quickly, even though it was different than before. We lived in a van about the size of a UPS van. It was difficult going from a house to living in a van and from showering in a bathroom to showering outside. But we did what we had to for my father to get his degree. Unfortunately, the situation continued to worsen. Food became very scarce and our living conditions were not improving. We would skip meals, even though at times a meal was nothing more than animal crackers or beans that were treated with lime to kill any insects living in them. I remember walking through the orchards of the local farmers and pick green oranges just to have something to eat.
That winter, half way through my 6th grade and shortly after my 12th birthday, my parents made the decision to move back to the U.S. and start working by planting pine trees for paper companies, lumber companies and private owners.
I started working to help my family survive. In fact, we all worked.
|Jaime (approx. 13 years old) and a brother planting trees|
My father became very ill in the harsh winter and the money he was making was barely enough to feed the family. I was old enough to understand the severity of the situation, but young enough to believe in them and trust that everything would be okay. We continued to work and in our free time my mother would have us read and do math problems to keep up with our education. It wasn’t accredited but it was all we had at the moment.
Romero boys, around 8-14 yrs. old;
Jaime is the tall one with a trash bag
over his head and a thick jacket,
to protect himself from bee stings
while harvesting honey
I stayed out of school for 5 years and continued to work with my family to better our situation. By the end, we had bought a piece of land with a trailer home that to us felt like a mansion. By this time - 1994 - I was a 17-year old boy with no real education but a lot of work experience and a will to survive.
High school graduation photo
[M]y brother was graduating high school and I knew that the cost of out-of-state tuition would be even more tasking for my family if both of us went out of state. So, I transferred to Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee. While at Bethel College I realized that I needed more money for school because the soccer scholarship I had at the time was not enough.Romero did some research and found the Army ROTC program at UT Martin, which would pay for school. He enrolled in the fall of 1999 and earned his college degree in the spring of 2002. Making Romero's graduation that much more meaningful was the fact that another Romero who had been on an intermittent pursuit of education for even longer - his father - graduated college with him.
Romero entered flight school in 2002 and planned to become a helicopter pilot, but in flight school he decided to apply to dental school. He enrolled in the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in Memphis in the fall of 2003.
So, I transferred to the Dental Corp sometime around 2004 and that is where I have been serving since. After graduating dental school in May of 2007, I got accepted to an internship in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Cleveland, Ohio.
I got deployed to Iraq in January of 2008 and returned in May of the same year. I did not pilot any helicopter while in Iraq. My mission in Iraq was to treat the Iraqi detainees. At that time, we had over 23,000 detainees and was the largest prison in the world until it was closed. Even though we were at a more secured post, we would periodically get indirect fire (artillery) from hostile forces around the area, fortunately no american or coalition forces were seriously injured during my time there. Unfortunately, I cannot same the same for some Iraqi civilians in the area.
|Romero in uniform. The helicopters in the background are the ones he used to travel from Kuwait to Iraq.|
All of my brothers served for either the Army or Air Force. Three of the four have been deployed to Iraq and we are all doing well and continuing to move forward and fight to better our lives. I guess we have come a long way from living in a van and picking food out of trash cans.
When asked if I wish things were different I can honestly say that I would not change a thing about my past. It has made me who I am today and I am still that humble person that is now in a position to help others just as I was helped by many.
Dr. Jaime Arturo Romero, Jr. is a graduate of the University of Tennessee School of Dentistry and completed his residency at Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a Major in the TN Army National Guard Dental Corp Reserves and was previously deployed to Iraq, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. With an avid interest in aviation, he has flown helicopters in the Army and completed training in the US Army Airborne and Air Assault School. He has volunteered service to Give Kids a Smile, Target House, Books for Kids, building parks for kids, and Habitat for Humanity. His other interests include biking, soccer, outdoors, and numerous church activities. Dr. Romero is also fluent in Spanish.