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Home | SAN ANTONIO | Spotlight | Spotlight - Alex Ocasio, President, Cross Branch Surveying

Spotlight - Alex Ocasio, President, Cross Branch Surveying

image Alex Ocasio has his two rescues, Angel and Sweetie, to help keep spirits high and friendly at Cross Branch Surveying’s office.

SAN ANTONIO - After a whirlwind and winding journey, Alex Ocasio found his calling in the construction industry in surveying, and for the last seven years, he has been running his own company, Cross Branch Surveying, with his friend, Barbara Bruce, who worked with him at a previous surveying company.





   As the kind of person who stops his truck to help a possum get down from a position stuck on a fence, Ocasio also has a passion for animals. Cross Branch’s two mascots have the office wired for treats and attention. And Ocasio reflects back on how he got here with a job he loves and an office that’s like another home.

What was it like growing up in Puerto Rico?

    I had three sisters, one brother. I’m the middle child, the oldest of the boys. So, there’s a total of seven in the family with my mom and my dad. The whole neighborhood was family. My aunt was on one side. My grandfather was in front of us. Grandpa and Grandma had 16 kids, so it’s a big family. Everybody shared. Behind our house, we had a huge avocado tree, and my grandpa had bananas and plantains at his house.
    It was always very family-oriented. I had a good childhood. My dad was a truck driver and baker. We had a little panaderia in town, and he was a truck driver for feed for stables.
    Today, my brother, Alvin, works here with me. I moved his whole family over here from Puerto Rico about two years ago. I see them now, and my two nephews, his kids, speak English and have things that we didn’t have. We grew up speaking Spanish. I like to see them doing better than we did, have the tools that we didn’t have.
    Growing up in Puerto Rico was very family-oriented, and we were very religious Catholics. Friday night, it was rosary at my grandma’s, Sundays everybody goes to church.
    I grew up in Camuy. It’s the romantic city of Puerto Rico – that’s what they call it. It’s a coast town. We were always at the beach. We were outside all the time. We played tag. We lived on a hill, and we played baseball [laughs]. When I go to visit, I just relax. I try to go every year.

Tell me about your time in the Army.

    I was in college, and I was going for agro-industrial. One day, I woke up and I said, “I want to join the Army.” I went to the recruiter’s station, and he said, “Well, you need to watch the video first.” And I said, “No, just give me the test. I’m ready.” And this was without telling my family. I took the test, and I got everybody together Sunday night, and I said, “I’m joining the military.”
    The Army is big in Puerto Rico, because the Army is the only branch that sends us to an English school, and it’s right here at Lackland Air Force Base. I’m one of those people that I want to see what’s behind that door. I love my town, but I wanted to see what else is out there.
    At the beginning, I was going to go Reserve, but the sergeant came and asked me, “You really want to learn English?” And I said, “Yeah!” He said, “Go active duty.” I said, “Okay.” He changed the papers, and I went active.
    From there, I went to Fort Sill, OK for about a month and then I came here to Lackland for the DLI, Defense Language Institute, and I was there six months. That’s before basic training. You have to pass that before you go to basic, and by the time you get to basic, it’s easier, because you’re learning English at DLI, plus you’re learning Army stuff.
    Then, I went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and that’s where I took basic training, during the winter.
    Being Puerto Rican, I’ve never seen snow, and there was a group of us from the English school stationed together there, and there we are, at midnight, looking at snow falling. We go to bed at 8 o’clock. So the drill sergeant caught us looking, and said, “Oh, you guys have never seen snow? All of you, outside.” We got outside in the snow, making snow angels and doing PT and singing “Jingle Bells” in the middle of the night [laughs]. That was my first experience with snow.

Where did you go after basic training?
    I came here again to Fort Sam, because my job was infantry medic. We were here about two months. From here, though I had never lived in the states and just finished boot camp, my orders right after that said, “You’re going to Germany.” I thought, “I just learned English, and they’re sending me to Germany.”
    Over there, they assign you like a sponsor for a couple of months, so you get used to life in Germany. As soon as I stepped off of the bus that picked us up, it was a Puerto Rican guy. I said, “Thank you, Jesus!” So, we all became friends – it’s a big Puerto Rican community over there too – inside the Army, everybody helps each other.
    I was in Germany for three years, and I went to Bosnia from Germany. We set camp. We were the ones that went in before anybody else, and when we went in, there was mud up to our knees. Since we were on a peacekeeping mission, we had to set up everything for the people who were coming in after us. So we had to set up the place we call “tent city,” the MASH unit – the mobile hospital. The way they were going to live depended on us.
    I was there for a year-and-a-half, and then I went back to Germany and became in charge of the STD [sexually transmitted diseases] area for the whole K-Town [Kaiserslautern] area. What a job! [laughs] An interesting job to say the least.
    From there, I came back to the states and was stationed at Fort Hood. We did tank competitions – I was a medic assigned to a tanker unit. As a medic, they give you a section that you’re in charge of. When these guys go out in the field, you’re with these guys. You’re their doctor. If you’re a good medic, and you take care of them, these guys will take care of you.

What was next for you?

    From there, I went to NTC, National Training Center in California’s Mojave Desert. The tours there are two months, but I kept volunteering to stay, so I stayed about a year.
    In late 2001, I thought, “It’s time to do something else.” I had done two re-enlistments. I had done a tour. They gave me the plane ticket to go back to Puerto Rico, and I said, “I’ll just stay here.” And I drove my car down to San Antonio.
    I lived in my car for about a month. I didn’t have a place to stay or anything. This was when I walked into Survey Associates.
I was at the front desk, filling out an ap-plication, and the owner of the company, Linda Lively, passed by me, looked at me, and said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m just filling out an application, ma’am.” She kept walking, and then came out of
her office, and said, “You? Come here. You want to work here?” I said, “Yes, ma’am.” And I started the next day.

So, that’s how you got started in the industry.
    I had no idea what survey was. I just needed a job. I needed to get an apartment. I got into the field, and I said, “This is not for me.” So, I told her husband, who was there when I got back. And he said, “Oh, okay.” So, I got home – I was staying with a friend at that time – and they called me and said, “Come back and give us a chance.” I said, “Man, they called me back.”
    So, I went back and I stayed with them for 11 years. I loved it. I loved working outside, the freedom, and it was constant learning. You get to travel, and in Texas, being outside is just amazing. I didn’t want to do anything else. I learned everything – how to work with the instruments, the data collectors, what surveying really means.
    Me and Barbara always stayed there with them. One day, they came to us – her husband asked if I wanted to have lunch, and I went to lunch, and he said, “Do you think you can run this company?” I said, “Yes!” And he said, “You’re going to get it. That was the answer I was looking for. You didn’t hesitate, so I know you’re going to do good.” We did the paperwork, and that’s the story. We opened Cross Branch in 2010, and it’s been a journey.
    From not knowing English to going into the military to living in my car – and those nights when you’re in your car, those are the nights you sit there and think, “Should I go back?” It wasn’t in me to go back. I was going to make it happen no matter what. There’s a saying we have in Spanish that means, “God squeezes you but never chokes you.” So, I knew that whatever I went through, I was going to come out on the other side.

What do you do in your spare time?

    Go to the gym. It’s my other life. It’s me leaving the stress there. I like to go to the gym and lift heavy things – and spend time with the girls [gestures to his two dogs in the office].
    I’ve got these two girls, Angel and Sweetie, and Angel one day came back with a kitty in her mouth. I thought, “My God, she killed a cat.” No, she decided to adopt a cat, and she nursed the cat.
    I was never a cat person, and now, two years later, I have a cat. That’s her baby. Angel and Kitty eat together, they sleep together. When I got Angel from the pound, she had just had babies, and she still had that maternal instinct.

Have you always rescued animals?

    It started at Survey Associates. I’ve always been a dog person, and since we were out there working, I started running into dogs. I started seeing the dogs that needed help. I would see dogs that were chained up and always brought them water.
    One time, a guy who used to work there, he said, “My dog had puppies,” and I said, “I’ll take one.” It was a Catahoula mix, beautiful dog. I called him Napoleon, because he was so tiny with a big attitude. He came in, and he was with me all the time.
    Then one day, we were driving on Highway 90 and I see this little red-nosed pit bull on the side of the road on the bridge. I stopped and opened the door, and she just jumped in. She had a cable wrapped around her neck. I remember spending the whole night picking fleas off her and digging the cable out of her neck.
    I named her Sunshine. She became my Sunshine. She went with me everywhere. Napoleon was a good dog, but my ex-wife wanted him and he went with her. Sunshine stayed with me. She was with me through good and bad. I had Sunshine for 11 years, the whole time that I was at Survey Associates, and they let me bring her to work.
    I think that’s where I get the whole bringing them to work thing, because when we were there, they had a poodle they brought to the office, and I said, “Can I bring my dog, because I don’t want to leave her?” And they said, “Go ahead, bring her!” Sunshine was my light.
    One day, she got sick, and I took her and found out she had cancer. They gave me about 2 feet of medication for her, and I gave her the medicine, but I said, “That’s not her. That’s not the Sunshine I remember. I can’t do this – extend her life because I’m being selfish.” So, Good Friday, I put a blanket down for her and we sat on the floor.
    She slept and then when she got up, she was jumping and barking, happy. We went outside, and Sunshine just looked up at the sky. I played with her, and I started making sausage and chicken, cooking for her. I thought she probably felt better, but the next day, she wakes up and she’s in pain again. So, I called the vet and said, “I cannot be selfish.” They made her feel at ease. [pauses]
    But she was gone, and then two days later, I said, “We need to save another one.” So, I went to Animal Control, and Angel was just lying there in her cage, like her spirit was completely broken. I asked them about her, and they said, “She was a momma dog, and nobody wants her because she just had puppies and she’s a pit bull. She’s been on death row 10 times, and every time they put her there, one of the employees takes her out.”
    They opened the cage and Angel laid at my feet and took a deep breath. I said, “Girl, let’s go.” They said, “If you take her, we will void the fees.” I said, “You do that, and I will still make a donation,” because what they do over there has to break your heart on a daily basis.
    Angel has her own personality. She’s so outspoken. She likes to talk. And last year, we got Sweetie. I kept going under the bridge to go home, and she was there for two or three days in the same spot. I parked, open the door, and she jumped in. –mh

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Author Info
Mary Hazlett mary@constructionnews.net