Only Opportunities

04/29/2022 11:47 AM By Lisa Anderson
Breaking Social Norms
Julian Sinisterra
Julian Sinisterra
Story & Photo by Lisa Anderson

Only Opportunities

Navy Veteran & Business Owner Declares, "No Problems Here!"

Julian Sinisterra is the owner and agent of Legacy Insurance Consultants, director and co-founder of the Hispanic Business Council (HBC), and board member and co-founder of VetNet in Ocala, but he is also a husband, father, son, and Navy veteran.

Born in Colombia and raised in Miami from the age of 10, Julian learned about the United States through the streets. “I really learned English defending myself on the playground, and through cartoons and Sesame Street®. I think my sister had it a lot tougher than I did. I came here young enough to adapt. She came when she was 15. That’s a critical age.”

Every summer, until he was about 16 years old, Julian would travel to Colombia to visit his relatives. “We are considered first generation immigrants. A lot of us have our foot in two different cultures. I was raised with the Colombian culture, but at the same time, I’m growing up in the U.S. culture.”

From Art to Military

Julian graduated high school at 17 and received offers of full-ride scholarships to several schools across the country. “I was originally an art major. People don’t really believe that, because my world is business and I love it. But my first love was always art.” But he and his best friends wanted to do something a little different before heading straight to college. His friends suggested the military. 

After convincing his parents, Julian joined the Navy and headed off to boot camp in Orlando. It was his first time outside of Miami or Colombia. “I joined in July [1992]. Mind-blown is an understatement. It was rough. I thought I was the shit because I [was] from a big city. Now, I’m surrounded by some grown-ass men. You know? I wasn’t the shit anymore. What they did back then, especially Army and Navy, they did a whole psychological and physical dressing down of a person. Then, they build you back up again in their image. Obviously, it was needed because of the positions you are going to be in. I was cognizant of that, even as it was happening, but I actually took to it. Not everybody takes to it, but it was a fit for me. I was looking for structure, discipline, [and] mentorship.”

Julian was sent to Virginia Beach and began his career as an airman. He worked his way up through the ranks and was doing quite well. He worked hard, played hard, deployed three times, and met his wife while they were both still in the service. Overall, he stayed for almost six years. “I was going to make it a career. Towards the end of my enlistment, there were a lot of changes that were happening. That’s where I really started getting a big taste of inequality—lack of diversity of the races within the armed forces—even from other minorities. It’s very easy to simplify a very complex issue. That’s what we tend to do nowadays. I was too young to really understand how complex of an issue it was, how I could get over it or navigate through that.”

The Navy wanted him to stay and even offered him a higher rank, but Julian had made up his mind. He wanted out. “In hindsight, I should have stayed in.”

Transitioning out was challenging for him. “You will never be a civilian again. Just like you will never be a soldier or sailor again. The proper term for that is actually a veteran. [It’s] a mixture between a soldier, an airman, or a sailor and a civilian. It has nothing to do with PTSD. That’s a whole separate issue.

“I was never in a combat situation, but my job was very dangerous. I saw people get killed.” One of the common hazards of serving on a carrier was personnel getting blown off the flight deck, 100 feet above the Atlantic. If they were pulled out of the water, they may or may not be alive.

Civilian Life

Back home in Miami, Julian took over the home. His parents had divorced, and his father had returned to Colombia. Julian went back to school, eventually shifting his major from art to business. He flourished in his career, but as his family grew, he made a shift to insurance. He moved to Ocala seven years ago.

Once again, Julian found himself needing to adjust to a new way of life. “I disconnected from the veteran community for a long time, [but] the challenges that [Ocala] was giving me, I found myself searching for some normalcy.”

He began by volunteering at Veterans Helping Veterans, where he met Chad Walker. Together, Julian and Chad saw a need for the veterans’ business community, and they founded VetNet. Chad serves as vice president.

“I have a real problem with people taking advantage of others. I don’t like to call them problems. I call them opportunities. I’m a big believer that words have a very powerful effect on yourself.”

Julian not only helps the veterans’ community with business education and figuring out how to work with opportunities, he also has the same mission within the small business and Hispanic communities through the Hispanic Business Council. “[I] give with no expectation of return.”
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