The Forgotten Vet of the New Mexico Prison Riot

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The Forgotten Vet of the New Mexico Prison Riot

ESPAÑOLA  – Growing up in Española with a profound sense of community, Floyd Garcia knew he wanted to serve his country and state after graduating high school. Garcia enlisted in the New Mexico National Guard in 1978 and was assigned to the 3631st Automotive Repair Unit operating out of Española . The likelihood that Garcia would ever see combat, was slim. That was until the fateful night of Feb. 2, 1980 when Garcia recalls getting the phone call at 2 a.m. that would forever change his life. 

Due to overcrowding, lack of services and programs, and unsanitary living conditions, inmates at the New Mexico State Penitentiary had grown restless and hostile. By the evening of Feb. 2, inmates had seized control of the prison and taken 12 officers hostage. 

With no explanation, Garcia’s platoon was asked to gear up and report to the headquarters. Garcia recalls not knowing what was transpiring until they saw the prison and witnessed the smoldering fires and ensuing chaos. 

The 3631st Automotive Repair Unit was the first to arrive and responsible for setting up the initial perimeter that would be used to eventually take back the prison. Garcia would be assigned to guard the main gate and recalls this terrifying experience in detail.  On multiple occasions, Garcia and others from his platoon would be locked inside the main gate to remove the carnage left by inmates. Still today, Garcia can remember “seeing, hearing, and smelling all of the events as they were occurring.” 

Over the course of the next 24 hours, Garcia would be asked to participate in other missions that would take him into the prison where he witnessed more destruction and death. In total, 200 inmates were injured, 33 were killed and 7 guards were treated for injuries. But Garcia’s time at the prison would continue another seven months, as they were assigned to the role of feeding the inmates while Governor Bruce King refused to reform the prison. 

Garica, along with other military personnel who participated in the 36 hour standoff, would receive a New Mexico National Guard Medal for Outstanding Service, only to be forgotten over the next 25 years. 

Like many in his situation, Garcia would learn 23 years after that fact that he and others in his platoon had been suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since the riot. Although PTSD is a common issue recognized by the military and mental health professionals now, it wasn’t until a couple of years after Garcia’s experience in 1980 that professionals began acknowledging and treating PTSD. 

Despite requests to the state to receive help and obtain documentation about his service during the riot, Garcia has been left to fend for himself and addresses the effects of combat on his own. The lack of actions taken by the state, have left Garcia with a profound need to be acknowledged for the impact his service caused. “The state forgot about us.  They had a responsibility to our health and let us down,” noted Garcia. 

Garcia attended the July 10 interim hearing for the legislative Military and Veteran Affairs Committee held in Española to discuss his concerns with legislators. Garcia hopes for closure but also wants to bring awareness to the ‘forgotten vets’ suffering from PTSD. 

Garcia was not on the agenda but Senator Richard Martinez (D-Rio Arriba) who was co-chairing the meeting set time aside for him to brief the committee. Prior to Garcia’s presentation Representative Jim Trujillo (D-Santa Fe) discussed his desire to see PTSD resources made more available to first responders including police and fire fighters. Following Garcia’s presentation legislators agreed to investigate this issue further.

If you or anyone you know might be suffering from PTSD, please seek help.  For veterans, please contact the Veterans Affairs at 505-265-1711, non-veterans in the Rio Arriba or Taos County area can contact Inside Out Recovery (toll free) at 877-703-1270.