Next time you lose 20 bucks in a drunken bet with a friend, remember the name "Teo Garcia" before you feel too bad for yourself.
"I had a unique way of getting back into the service, no doubt," Garcia says by satellite phone from a base in Baghdad. Here's how he got there:
Garcia grew up in Cutler Ridge after emigrating from Panama with his mother in the early '90s. He graduated from South Ridge High School in '93 and immediately enlisted in the Army, where he spent six years as a Bradley gunner and driver -- including a long deployment in Kuwait.
He got out of the service in 1999, eventually opening a barbershop in South Miami and selling timeshares on the side. But by 2007, his life was falling apart -- his brother had been killed serving in Afghanistan, and Garcia's timeshare company laid him off.
He decided to get out of Miami, so he drove to New Jersey to see his mother. In Wildwood, he ran into an old Army buddy, Sgt. Jeffrey King, at a bar. The two began drinking and playing pool. King made Garcia a bet to spice things up: "I'll give you $3,000 if you beat me two out of three games," he said.
Hell, yeah. Garcia agreed. But what if King won? "You re-enlist in the Army," he said.
Garcia figured he didn't have much to lose. He took the bet. Three games later, King slammed the eight ball into a corner pocket and Garcia promised to get back into the service.
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Now he's in Iraq. He was deployed to Baghdad last November with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and works with the command group. And for the record, he says he's glad he lost the game.
"I just re-upped for another three years actually," he says. "I feel like we're helping out the kids here in Iraq, and these young Iraqis are the future of this country."
Garcia's deployment ends in December. He says he's ready to return to his wife and son, Teo Jr., in Cutler Bay. As the U.S. military prepares to hand security in Baghdad over to Iraqi forces, Garcia says he thinks the nation is ready to defend itself.
"You can see the economy improving here. You can see the people are shopping and kids are going to school," he says. "The Iraqis are taking command of their own community... I think our job is almost done."