SPECIAL REPORT: From the battlefield to the court
CALIPATRIA, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - When you walk into a gymnasium, like the one here in Calipatria, what’s the first thing that you notice?
The raucous crowd cheering from the stands.
The players executing on the court.
Or possibly a coach yelling instructions from the sideline.
There will also be two other people on the court at any given game.
The referees. The zebras. Those guys who seemingly get every call wrong, with all the fans thinking they are blind.
But these aren’t your normal run-of-the-mill referees. Nor are they treated like so.
Jesse “J.J.” Jackson and Hector Turango are beloved by both the kids they officiate and by the spectators in the crowd.
But Jackson and Turango have not only served their community as referees…
They also served our country’s armed forces. Jackson in the Marines Corps and Turango in the army.
Both men joined the military for different reasons.
“So, I got on my hands and knees and I prayed to god to please send me somewhere from the army… I want to join the army," said Hector Turango, a former army veteran.
“I had a couple of friends who had joined the military, joined the Marine Corps, and they were like hey man, why don’t you go in on the buddy plan with us. I’m like dude… I am not going into no military. No!” said Jesse “J.J.” Jackson, a former Marine Corps veteran.
Jackson said his tough upbringing motivated him to excel on the court.
“Where I grew up, it was a tough neighborhood. It wasn’t a whole lot to do there besides play sports," said Jackson.
Sports looked to be the way out for Jackson from his tough upbringing but says the military provided a greater sense of appreciation for his country, even though he never saw active combat.
“I was fortunate that I didn’t get to have any active duty,” said Jackson.
Family is also a key part of Jackson’s life. When he is not on the court. He is at home spending time with his grand-babies. And enjoying every minute of it.
Hector Turango enlisted in the United States Army Airborne Infantry in 2000. First stationed at Fort Benning, in Georgia.
“I went to a JRTC training facility, came back, and before you know it, I’m in Kosovo,” said Turango.
Turango was in Kosovo for almost a year before transferring to Fort Drum, New York, where he was on September 11th, 2001. Turango remembered having no hesitation in administering aid at ground zero.
“Really, there is no volunteer, it’s voluntold… because that’s my job. So any vet that you talk to, you give him a job, that’s their job. Ground zero… we got to help out… I’ve seen it… been there done that," explained Turango.
He says the time away from his family, especially his son, joey, left a void in his life but also provided him with his greatest motivation.
“Spending a lot of time away from my son. And that’s my why. My son was my why. My son woke me up… my son is what kept me going," continued Turango.
The rigors of warfare would eventually take a toll on Turango both physically and emotionally.
“Torn pec muscle, liver tear, rotator cuff. My knees were both out from jumping, just trucking," said Turango.
Guidance was something Turango was desperately searching for. He was able to find comfort from another veteran who encouraged him to go into officiating.
“Well, really it all started with him saying that he was going to kick my butt," said Henry Rodriguez, fa ormer marine.
Rodriguez knew the importance of getting former veterans, like Turango into the officiating ranks.
“I think we need more vets stepping up. We have programs, other programs here in the valley, but I think we need more vets stepping into the lives of kids,” said Rodriguez.
The ability to be part of a team again allowed turango to re-assimilate with society and give him his newfound purpose.
“And when I put that uniform on, it actually felt good. I was part of something. And I’m like oh, I’m respected. I walk out onto the field and people will look at you like, oh that’s the ref. That’s when I’m like oh this feels good," said Turango.
Above all else, Jackson and Turango feel the responsibility to the kids who continue to play the game they love.
“But what I want to leave for these kids man, is the understanding and the knowing that I care for them. I care for them. Not only as athlete but as human being," explained Jackson.
“These coaches put in a lot of time. These kids put in a lot of time. These parents put in a lot of time. And as a ref, we need to give them an honorable game. And to me it’s no different than serving your country,” explained Turango.