Jon Parra

Veteran Voices of the Central Coast -
Master Sergeant Jon L. Parra

Jon Parra was a junior in high school when the Gulf War ended. It was a pivotal time when he and his peers were figuring out their next steps after graduation. Not thrilled about the idea of going straight to college, at the age of 17 - with permission from his father who had also served in the Army - Parra enlisted in 1992.

“My dad is my forever role model,” the Los Angeles native said. “Every little boy plays Army at some point in his life. I had the opportunity to make it real.”

At 18 years old, he started basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
“One of my most memorable and fulling assignments was at Ft. Bragg, N.C. where I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.” said Parra. The 82nd specializes in parachute assault operations and has a well-respected reputation with a history dating back to WWI. With its initial members hailing from all 48 states, it gained the nickname “All-American.”

“You work with some of the greatest people from all over the United States,” said Parra of his time in the Army. “The camaraderie is second to none.”

He went on to serve 20 years in the Army, including three overseas deployments in Saudi Arabia in 1994, then again in Saudi Arabia in 1998 and in Iraq in 2005. He also witnessed the military’s transformation from pre- to post-9/11 in the middle of his career.

“We really haven’t been a nation at war, we’ve been a military at war,” said Parra, contrasting his time in the service with that of WWII, when people across the country were planting Victory Gardens, holding scrap metal drives and rationing sugar.

He says this separation between service members and civilians made it difficult for him to transition to civilian life.

“When I got out of the Army, I felt a false sense of adulthood because I didn’t understand the civilian community,” Parra said. “A neighbor was surprised I was mowing his lawn to help him out. We did that all the time in the Army.”

He missed the sense of community and working together to support each other through acts such as meal trains for a family with a newborn or participating in family readiness groups. His daughter and son were born during his Army career – they are now 21 and 17 years old, respectively.

Parra’s final mission was teaching Military Science courses for UC Santa Barbara’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. That’s when Parra was first introduced to the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation as the organization provides scholarships for UCSB ROTC students.  
After retiring from the Army in 2013 with the rank of Master Sergeant, he stayed involved at UCSB and took a job as the university’s inaugural Veteran Service Coordinator.

As part of the Veteran Resource Team, the role assists veterans in adjusting to college and learning how to maximize Post 9/11 GI Bill educational benefits they earned.

“It was an opportunity to serve in a lot of the same way,” Parra said. “I was honored to be an advocate for student veterans.”

UCSB was the first campus in the UC system to have a full-time veteran service coordinator, a distinction Parra credits to PCVF, which funded the program entirely for three years, and Dr. Kirsten Olson, a clinical psychologist at UCSB who was instrumental in co-developing the program. Services include support, mentorships, special programs, a resource center, academic counseling, and scholarships for veterans attending UCSB.     

 “The Foundation [PCVF] has been a huge support for me,” Parra said. “I consider John and Hazel, PCVF’s founders, to be mentors.”

Parra said he was drawn to the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation because they look out for the well-being of local veterans, the same way a military unit would look out for their troops. He now serves on the PCVF board.  

Between volunteering with the PCVF and working in his current role as owner of SB Tactical, a company which offers active shooter training equipment for law enforcement, Parra is able to hold on to some of what he misses most about being in the Army.

“It brings me back to that camaraderie in the military,” he said.

To support the mission to ensure that the local men and women who have served our country, such as Jon Parra, are “Never Forgotten,” you can make a donation by mailing a check to the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Fund, 1187 Coast Village Rd, Suite 1-334, Santa Barbara, CA or DONATE NOW.