He grew up poor in Brooklyn and, at times, lived on the streets.
Today, he's an emerging political player who also leads a marketing, public relations and consulting firm.
Raul "Danny" Vargas' story may resemble a Hollywood script. For Vargas, however, he's simply living his American Dream.
Overcoming Early Troubles
Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Vargas is the youngest of four children. His mother and father separated when he was only two years old. His mother didn't have much experience dealing with everyday life and never learned how to read and write.
"She was ill-prepared to raise a bunch of kids by herself in New York City," said Vargas. It is not surprising that the family relied on welfare to get by.
When Vargas was about 10, his three sisters had moved out of the house.
"It was just me and my mom," said Vargas. "And she would disappear for three or four days at a time. So I would be by myself in a ramshackle apartment with no food. I would eat ice cubes and pretend they were food. Then mom would return with food and all the anger and fear that had built up would disappear."
Vargas stepped away from his reality by watching television. The little black and white TV in the apartment was an open window to a different world, which gave him hope and desire that things could be different.
He was fortunate that his oldest sister could serve as a role model. Nine years his senior, she attended some college, but had not graduated. However, Vargas saw her hard work and it affected him during his early years.
Perhaps owing to his sister's lead, Vargas was studious and did fairly well in school. He was also mentored by teachers. He noted that when he was in ninth or tenth grade, one teacher took an interest in him and requested that he accompany him to Washington, D.C. to assist in doing some research. They visited the Library of Congress; later, his teacher took him on research trips to Harvard University in Boston.
"I saw that there was a lot more in the world than the grime and crime I saw in Brooklyn," said Vargas.
When he finished high school at 17, he convinced his mother to let him join the U.S. Air Force. "I went into the recruiting office and asked about the jobs available to me," said Vargas. "The recruiter showed me a list of jobs and I saw that one was in intelligence and I picked it. The recruiter said, 'No, you wouldn't want to do that because you will have to take a whole lot of tests and you'll have to wait awhile to get in.' But I was adamant. I told him that I wanted that job."
Good Decisions And A Passion For Learning
Vargas started gathering the experiences that would enable his later success. The Air Force sent him to Panama to gather intelligence. It couldn't have been a more interesting time to monitor the region. The Contras were fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, there was a civil war in El Salvador, and Manuel Noriega led the military inwas Panama. But this hard work was not enough; Vargas also took some college courses at night and during the weekends to gain further knowledge.
He spent five years in Panama with the Air Force and then was transferred to San Antonio, Texas, where he continued his intelligence work for two more years. Because of the limited size of the U.S. intelligence community at a very busy time in world affairs, Vargas was able to get involved in a plethora of special projects and was given increasing responsibility.
"I accomplished in just a short seven years what it took most people a whole career to accomplish," said Vargas. Accordingly, his work with the Air Force was no longer enough.
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