When Camarillo resident Abel Abeyta enlisted in the Navy at age 19, he was looking for excitement. He wanted to travel to unfamiliar places, meet people from around the world and learn new skills.
The now 41-year-old found all that and more during his 20 years of service as a member of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Seabees. He retired as an equipment operator, holding the rank of petty officer first class.
As a Seabee, Abeyta was part of the force that constructs base camps, roads and other facilities necessary for military operations.
He operated heavy equipment such as bulldozers, tractor trailers and Humvees and supervised the construction of an airfield fire department building at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He also assisted in recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
The New Mexico native was stationed at Port Hueneme from 1998 until his retirement in 2017. Prior to that, he completed boot camp in Chicago and attended an equipment operation school in Missouri.
Abeyta said being in the service took him to places he never thought he would go. As a sailor, he went to Kosovo, Guam, Spain, Italy and Iraq to name a few.
“It brings more appreciation of where we’re from and how lucky we have it because what certain countries go through is pretty rough,” Abeyta said. “But learning their cultures and history was pretty neat.”
Josh O’Brien, a steelworker for the Seabees, served with Abeyta for 10 years, including a deployment to Iraq. O’Brien said if he had to pick a team of 12 out of all the people he’s served with in 20 years, Abeyta would be one of them.
“I would go anywhere in the world with the dude,” O’Brien said. “I think the loyalty and honesty that that cat has is one of my favorite things.”
Abeyta said the service led him to meet people from all over the world. It also led him to his wife of 18 years, Tammie Abeyta.
Tammie Abeyta served as an equipment operator in the Navy for five years and spent three of those years in the same battalion as her now-husband. The pair went on two deployments together to Italy and Kosovo.
For Abeyta, having a partner who can relate to the hardships of being in the Navy has made life a little easier, he said.
“She knows some of the struggles because she’s been there too,” Abeyta said.
The Navy couple had their first child in 2000, just as Tammie Abeyta was finishing her enlistment.
Abel Abeyta was deployed for as long as seven months at a time, often missing birthdays, holidays and other family events.
Tammie Abeyta said her husband sometimes asked her not to tell him about new things their newborn Ashley had done, like clapping or rolling, because it was so hard for him to hear about what he was missing.
It got even harder, Abeyta said, when his kids grew old enough to ask questions. When he’d leave, they’d ask him where he was going and why he had to go.
“They didn’t understand what I did for a living,” Abeyta said. “It’s sad to say but you almost have to disconnect emotionally just to kind of get through it.”
Today, Abeyta lives in Camarillo with his wife and their two kids, 19-year-old Ashley and 16-year-old David.
To this day, Abeyta’s kids are what inspire him most. He said his son, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2, inspires him to live honestly and without judgment of others.
“He kind of walks to the beat of his own drum. He’s like the most non-judgmental person ever,” Abeyta said.
As it does for most veterans, Abeyta said it’s taken some time to readjust to civilian life. Having a new daily routine and a new sense of independence has taken some getting used to. He’s now employed by the Public Works Department at Point Mugu.
Looking back at all the places he went and the things he did in the service, it almost feels like another life now that he’s settled down with his family.
“It’s kind of strange that this is my reality now,” Abeyta said. “I’m always like, ‘Do I have to go overseas soon?’ No, I’m just home and I’m OK with that.”
As Veterans Day approaches, Abeyta said it’s important to honor veterans of the past, present and future and recognize the sacrifices every veteran has made.
Abeyta said he and his wife think back on their time in the Navy with appreciation since they wouldn’t have met each other without it. The couple plans to spend their Veterans Day with family reflecting on their service.