By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing
Julio Figueroa, a senior majoring in business analytics and information systems, has always searched for a life with purpose. While working as a bartender in Key West in 2011, he met Special Operations Forces soldiers who inspired him to take the unexpected path of joining the U.S. Army and serve as a “night stalker,” a role nicknamed for its dedication to nighttime operations. Deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Guatemala as an avionics technician and leader of the downed aircraft recovery team, Figueroa’s job was to operate radio transmissions from crash sites. He was responsible for relaying what was happening on the ground to command as his team fixed aircraft or disassembled its parts as an effort to prevent planes from falling into enemy hands.
“We flew into the most challenging environments in some of the most remote regions in the world on no-fail missions,” Figueroa said. “Our motto was ‘Night stalkers don’t quit,’ and those four words have become part of my life-long narrative.”
After serving as a night stalker, he was hired by an aerospace defense contractor that supports the U.S. military. Figueroa returned home from overseas to be there as his wife Theresa, a USF alumna, gave birth to their first child. That’s when he decided it was time to transition to civilian life. In Spring semester 2023, he enrolled at USF and found guidance through the USF Office of Veteran Success.
“I was provided clarity, direction and peace of mind,” Figueroa said. “When I walked in, I also saw a community of other veterans all working towards the same goal. Your team is something you lose when you exit the military, so I knew I was in the right place.”
Figueroa is now giving back to the veteran community by volunteering in the USF Office of Veteran Success. He also interns at SOFWERX, where he conducts market research to find resources or experts to collaborate on innovative solutions serving U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force base.
Figueroa's story encourages others to embrace change, pursue purpose and remember that it's never too late to jump into a new journey.