WINDOM — In a candid moment before Windom Area students, staff and community members, Command Sgt. Maj. Juan S. Esquivel opened the curtains on his former chemically-dependent self and how he turned the lowest point of his life into something meaningful.

The decorated-with-honors veteran made the first step into what has become a more than three-decade career serving his country after looking into the mirror following a three-day drug overdose.

“I didn’t like what I saw,” Esquivel told the crowd gathered Monday for American Legion Post 206 and Ladies Auxiliary’s 34th annual Veterans Day program at Windom Area High School. “I had hit rock bottom without even knowing it.”

Esquivel said he also saw the decision to join the National Guard as honoring one of his greatest role models, his grandfather.

Command Sgt. Mag. Juan S. Esquivel candidly shares what helped him turn the lowest point of his life into something meaningful to a crowd gathered Monday in Windom Area High School's gymnasium for the 34th annual Veterans Day Program. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)
Command Sgt. Mag. Juan S. Esquivel candidly shares what helped him turn the lowest point of his life into something meaningful to a crowd gathered Monday in Windom Area High School's gymnasium for the 34th annual Veterans Day Program. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)
Having been raised from an early age by his grandparents in Mexico, Esquivel said he still remembers two phrases his grandfather always said to him: “Tell me who you hang around with, and I will tell you who you are;” and “You have a warrior spirit, make it part of your life.”

What were once just words, the phrases began to have a deeper meaning as he grew up.

In following his grandfather's advice, what he discovered was a brotherhood and sisterhood that he described as a “bonding” that no words can describe.

“There are only actions that can prove the bonding exists,” said the CSM who leads the 834th Aviation Support Battalion in St. Paul.

He felt that bond throughout his many missions, which included tours during both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He’s served during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he earned awards and recognition for his service.

Esquivel looked at Monday’s crowd and said the reason he shared the darkest moments of his life is simple.

“You need to know who I am behind the uniform,” he said. “You need to know what shaped my character and why I love this great country of ours.”

Esquivel said each Veterans Day gives an opportunity for communities across the country to pay tribute to veterans for their devotion, patriotism, courage and loyalty, which has made America the land of the free and home of the brave and a beacon of hope in a very complex world.

“Each veteran is part of a proud legacy and they have served with warrior spirits in their hearts,” he said. “When you fly the United States flag at home, business or schools, it represents not only our freedom, but the vets who have paid the ultimate price.”