PORT SHUAIBA, Kuwait –
Master Sgt. Ruben Soto has given 26 years of his life to the Army and his country, and he’s not done giving.
The transportation senior sergeant, or 88Z, placed second on the order of merit list in his field out of 106 active duty master sergeants during the most recent annual selection board, which means he has a good chance of promoting to the rank of sergeant major in the years to come.
Soto is currently deployed here with the 595th Transportation Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, serving as his battalion’s operations sergeant major. He helps manage port operations and tracks equipment from the United States as it makes its way to Kuwait.
The master sergeant, a native of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, said the Army values—and later the noncommissioned officer values—enticed him to continue serving, but it has been the support of his wife and two daughters that has encouraged him to continue to serve.
Becoming part of a bigger group
“I didn’t know anything about the Army but what I saw in movies,” Soto said. “A friend of mine asked me if I could go and take the ASVAB with him—I passed it—and I joined the military.”
The master sergeant was 21 at the time, and the news of his Mar. 19, 1996 enlistment came as a surprise to his family. He planned on completing his initial contract and then getting out, but found he appreciated being a part of an organization that operated by a set of core values.
“Once I got in and saw what the Army was—it was not what I saw in the movies or on TV—it was something totally different, and I liked it,” Soto said. “It taught me how to be a leader and how to do the right thing.”
As a 14E, which is known as a Patriot fire control enhanced operator today, the master sergeant attended basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and advanced individual training at Fort Bliss, Texas. Soto served as a 14E in two deployments to Saudi Arabia, one in 1997 and the other in 1999.
The master sergeant transitioned into the Army Reserve in 2000 and deployed to Iraq with his Reserve unit in 2004. In 2007, he was contemplating enlisting for active-duty service again but learned about the Active Guard Reserve program. AGR Soldiers serve full-time and enjoy the same benefits as active duty Soldiers. Soto transitioned and has served as an AGR ever since.
Soto deployed as an AGR Soldier to Iraq in 2009, and currently serves out of Concord, California.
When the master sergeant looks back over his career, certain things stick out like his early experiences with Soldiers who came from many different walks of life.
“I come from a tropical island and then I go to Fort Bliss, Texas, and I met so many Soldiers from different parts of the country and [of] different backgrounds,” Soto said. “I learned how to adjust my way of thinking and find my place among those different groups, and be part of a bigger group than what I was used to.
“Everywhere I go, there’s different traditions, different cultures, and that’s what I really like,” the master sergeant continued.
There is also the moment Soto got to press the button to launch a Patriot missile for the first time.
“It was very, very exciting,” Soto said, smiling. “It was during Roving Sands in the United States, which is practice of course, but it was very exciting to hear it.”
And, there was the time on his first deployment to Iraq where he and his Soldiers had to convoy to a specific point on the map and were told there would be life support available when they stopped.
“We got to that point and we had no tent, no food for 12 days, just the MREs that we had carried in our trucks,” the master sergeant said. “We were able to make our own tent between our two vehicles and it was fun—we enjoyed every moment.”
As is the case with many combat veterans, Soto has some less pleasant, invasive memories from Iraq that pop up from time to time.
“One day I had to assist a mortuary affairs team to carry out a Soldier to a Black Hawk,” Soto said, pausing to regain his composure before continuing. “That’s the hardest thing that I can think of that I had to do.
“Having to feel that—it was an honor of course—but it was hard,” the master sergeant continued. “And seeing Soldiers injured, and their blood and stuff.”
Soto said he got through those experiences from his second deployment by talking with his family members—both in Puerto Rico and in California—as well as his chain of command, and by utilizing counseling services.
“I’m a person that always expects the worst, and thank God I have been so lucky that nothing bad has happened to me,” the master sergeant said. “Sometimes when I remember it hits me again, but it feels good to get it out.”
Soto said his wife, Iraizaly, and his daughters, Lyanella, 14, and Allena, 8, have been his rock that have given him the strength to continue his career.
“It means everything,” the master sergeant said. “I was a totally different Soldier until my first daughter was born, and all of a sudden I was somebody new; I saw the Soldiers a different way, and I treated the Soldiers a different way, too.
“I always tell my Soldiers, ‘thank my daughters that I have so much patience with you,’” Soto continued. “What I have learned with my daughters and my wife, it means everything.”
The master sergeant said he considered turning down a promotion to sergeant major if it was offered, but his wife talked him into staying in so that he can reach the pinnacle moment of his career and reap the rewards of so much sacrifice.
“Sometimes it’s hard, like right now I’m deployed and my family is in California,” Soto said. “But at the same time now with technology, I have talked to my daughters every single day—I want to provide everything I can for them.”