By Gabriel Rom
Carlos Coello, an Ozone Park resident and U.S. Navy Veteran, has been devoted to the simple act of helping others ever since he was a child.
And while Coello, 50, was not born in America, his life story embodies much of the American Dream.
A native of Ecuador, Coello found his way to America by following his heart.
“I married my wife in Ecuador, but her family was established in America, so I went with her. I said let’s take a chance, let’s try it, let’s see what happens.”
Once Coello arrived in the United States he assumed he would easily find a new job. He was born into a staunchly middle-class Ecuadorian family and had graduated from a top university. Yet he spent his first years in America as a menial laborer, from tossing newspapers to working in restaurants.
“I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I even considered going back to Ecuador, where I would be considered a professional. I thought I could do better there than here delivering papers. I felt restrained, somehow very restrained.”
But in an act of courage Coello stayed put.
“No one forced me here, so I decided to just try a little harder,” he said.
Coello soon moved to Florida and began working at a hospital’s Infectious Control Department.
Over the next few years he continued to work at a series of odd jobs and struggled to find continuity or stability in his life.
“My life then,” he said wistfully, “was full of lots of little steps forwards and backwards.”
Eventually, a few years after moving to Florida, Coello joined the Navy where he enjoyed an 11-year career. Despite lengthy absences from his family due to frequent postings oversees and throughout the United States, he began to feel that things had finally started to go right for him. While still in the military, he and his family moved to New York and he became “a real New Yorker.”
“One of the slogans of the Navy is Honor, Courage, Commitment,” Coello said. “From Day One I identified with those three words. They became part of my life.”
Coello vividly recalled the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th.
“I remember getting dressed that morning and realizing I had to do something,” he said.
At the time, Coello, still in the military, was assigned to a security detail that worked closely with the NYPD.
“I was doing really cool stuff, and I was doing something for New York.”
After Hurricane Sandy, Coello, who was by then out of military service, volunteered to assist in Far Rockaway with housing and medical referrals.
The natural disaster led him to take an interest in global warming and he began attending ecology classes at Columbia University. He is currently working toward a Physicians Assistant degree at the Touro College of Health Sciences.
“If you can lend a helping hand, do so” Coello said, “That’s how I was raised. If I’m still walking and breathing, I can do something.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@