ALBANY, GA (WALB) - WALB and Montlick and Associates would like to recognize the Heroes Among Us.
Each month, we will spotlight an active duty man or woman, a veteran, or a fallen hero whose service to our country goes beyond the battleground.
After the January 2017 tornado in Albany, Guillermo Cornavaca felt a tug on his heart: to use his military service experience to help storm survivors.
In fact, he was the first line of defense for many of the city’s Hispanic population, which was hit hard by the storms.
"I really had no choice," Cornavaca said of his decision to join the U.S. Army in 1998. That's because of his mom. "She told me if I didn't go to college, I would have to join the military. So, I chose the military instead of going to school."
The option he took eventually turned into a career.
Seventeen years and three overseas deployments later, Cornavaca retired from the U.S. Army.
Serving in Iraq during wartime, he said that he learned to have a heart for people.
"The biggest role was to ensure the safety of the population, and make sure my guys came back home," he explained of his job overseas.
That's an attitude he brought home, even after he retired from service.
"When the tornadoes hit, I posted on Facebook, and immediately, it was when and where," his cousin, Marla Edmonds, explained of Cornovaca's response.
A deadly EF-3 tornado hit Albany on January 22, 2017. At that time, Cornavaca was living in Columbus, but he jumped at the chance to help his neighbors in the Good Life City, where his cousin lives.
“I felt like that was a calling to me to come down here and help,” he explained.
“At that point in our storms, just to find food, just to get a roof over your head, just to have a bed to sleep in that night, was getting to be our normalcy at that point,” said Edmonds, who played a role in volunteer efforts after the storm as well.
Cornavaca and his family spent 30 days collecting donations and providing simple necessities for as many families and children as possible.
"They came down and shopped with some of the children and tried to give them a sense of normalcy by including their family and their children," said Edmonds.
But perhaps one of the most impactful things he did those days following the tornado was simply speak.
"He was a huge asset in assisting with our Hispanic community," his cousin said.
Cornavaca joined first responders and the Red Cross to translate.
“They were trying to communicate with the people, and they were having a hard time having the Hispanic population come out of the trailers, because (that population) didn’t trust them,” he said. “But, when I started knocking on the doors with them and speaking Spanish, I told them we didn’t care what their legal status was. We just wanted to help.”
The veteran said that without the experience he got in the Army, he may not have known where to even begin to help.
"We train for emergency planning, and that's what this was. It was an emergency situation," he said.
For Edmonds, Cornavaca is a hero, with a good heart. A heart for service which is something she says this world needs more of.
"We need that type of person to step up and do more outreach," Edmonds said. "Not just for the area that you're in, but for your neighboring community."
Cornavaca said he and his family are now planning to move to Albany.
If you would like to nominate your military hero to be featured on ‘Heroes Among Us’ on WALB ABC, click here.