By Sgt. Salvatore Ottaviano
99th Readiness Division
Sgt. Kelvin Santiago spent this past Veterans Day as many do, spending time with family and remembering those who served before him – especially his father.
“My father’s here visiting from Puerto Rico and we’re going to celebrate Veterans Day together,” said Santiago when asked about his plans for the annual day of commemoration.
At age 22, Santiago will reach his five-year mark as a Soldier in the U.S. Army Reserve in a few weeks. He served in both Iraq and Syria in 2019.
“I like serving in the military because of the overall meaning to me: Being part of a bigger cause, putting others before yourself,” he said.
Santiago works for the 99th Readiness Division as part of the G3 operations staff. His military occupational specialty is 15P - Aviation Operations Specialist.
As a one-year-old, Santiago moved with his family from Puerto Rico to Trenton.
“I joined the Army to follow in my father’s footsteps because he was in the military,” he said. His dad, Samuel, never had a deployment during his career with the National Guard, but Santiago gained a lot of knowledge from him about being a Soldier, which went a long way in preparing for his own Army career.
“I kept learning about the Army when I was young with my father,” he said. “In high school, I took the ASVAB test and did well, and then I joined.
“The ones who supported me the most in joining were my father and my brother,” Santiago continued. “My mother sees that it’s ok now; she sees the value and good things about it.”
There are many aspects Santiago appreciates as a member of the Army Reserve, especially being an NCO as well as being a leader of other soldiers.
“To be a leader, first it’s about knowing what you’re doing, which means you have follow first; to crawl before you walk, and take initiative and learn as you go,” he said.
Santiago plans on continuing his military service for at least 20 or 30 years, planning to be a warrant officer or re-class to information technology as an active guard/reserve Soldier.
He’s also following in his father footsteps by influencing people about the military, to pay it forward.
“I like to help people; promote joining the military,” he said. “Where I come from [in Trenton] they fall into things or get in on the wrong things, and sometimes they look at me in the military to see if they could try to turn their life around.
“I tell them, ‘Do it - you don’t know if you’re gonna like something unless you try,’” Santiago continued. “Some regret not joining sooner. They see the school as a valuable benefit, to have the opportunity to go to college.”
He also has come to appreciate the military benefits like the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
“I took a few classes so far. I might get back into school eventually, but I want to transfer some college benefit to my children someday,” said Santiago.