When Octavio Machado enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 19, he was following a family tradition that went back to his grandfather, who served in Korea.
His two brothers served in the Army and Marines. All are members of the Ak-Chin Community.
Machado heard there was an opportunity to join the paratroopers and thought that sounded like a good idea. Signing “that piece of paper” in 2001, he had no idea what was ahead except that he was off to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Machado’s military was a post-9/11 world. As part of the 82nd Airborne Division, he served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising to the rank of sergeant.
“It was intense sometimes,” he said with some understatement.
During what he described as “hairy situations,” his unit formed bonds that are beyond any civilian friendships. Even now, nearly 20 years later, when they reunite it’s as though no time has passed. Because those were the voices next to him in combat, those are the voices that bring comfort now, he said.
Eight years after returning to civilian life, Machado was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. His combat buddies’ availability to talk and Veterans Affairs programs have helped him acclimate to the slower pace back home, he said.
Like his brothers, he joined Ak-Chin Police Department but has since moved on. His brother Manuel Garcia is the police chief. His brother Davis Garcia is a police sergeant.
Machado says his mother, Dolores Rodriguez, hates it and loves it at the same time.
“She’s always worried about their safety but extremely proud that they’re police officers,” he said. “It was the same thing as far as being in the military. I was the only one who deployed to a war zone. I can’t imagine having to do that three times over. She loves it, has a lot of pride but also a lot of stress about the physical danger.”
Machado, now 38, said he brought a high-intensity combat mentality to his policing job along with a desire to get things done. But he also learned he needed to cool his jets a little for community policing.
His military experience also instilled in him the desire to see projects through and create policies that would allow that to happen. He had witnessed the opposite overseas.
“You would see crumbling infrastructure. They would have these amazing-looking buildings that are half built that they just stopped,” he said. “And if they could tweak policy one way or the other, you could see the potential. I didn’t want to be one of those leaders who did things halfway. Everything I do, I want it to bear fruit.”
Back home, he saw the opportunity to make that happen.
Machado was elected to the Ak-Chin Council in 2018, taking office in January 2019. He ran on a platform of fiscal conservativism with expansion of social programs. He said wants to tackle the substance abuse issues in the community and revise the criminal code.
An Ak-Chin membership benefit is housing, but there is a long waiting list. Machado knows, because he was on it. That is a problem he wants to solve during his term.
With two daughters, a son and a grandson, Machado wants to make a difference, including giving the council the benefit of his military-taught knowledge.
“Ak-Chin has been here since 1961. Even being around that long, it has not been enough time to fully update how we operate,” he said. “I know we kind of want to keep that small-town feel, but I want to bring us into the 21st century.”
This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa magazine.