VICKSBURG, Miss. –
Sgt. 1st Class Bernardo “Bernie” Escarcega, 412th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) senior religious affairs noncommissioned officer (NCO) bids farewell after 23 years of honorable Army service.
A California native and junior in college at that time, he had ambitions to finish his collegiate education but also wanted more for his life.
“So, my military beginning started back in 1992,” said Escarcega. “My mother wanted me to finish college before I joined the military. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anybody to talk me out of it. I just had my mind set on going to the military, going into combat arms, and that’s what I did.”
The early days of his career kicked off at Fort Sill, Okla. as a Canon Crewmember (13B) where he spent the next two years as an active member of the U.S. Army.
“I didn’t realize what combat arms truly was back then. It was a lot of field exercises, training, and a lot of work,” said Escarcega. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
Moving into his second year in the Army and in field artillery, his leadership decided to utilize his talents elsewhere.
“They found out I knew computers and how to use most software back then,” said Escarcega. “They wanted me to take a typing test to re-class to 71L (administrative specialist), which is now 42A (human resources specialist). I converted over and acquired by second MOS (military occupational specialty).”
Following this change, Escarcega transitioned into the U.S. Army Reserve to finish the remainder of his initial Army contract. During this period, he moved into his third and final MOS.
“I did six years in the Army Reserve and got out just before 9/11, then I heard the call again,” said Escarcega. “I joined back up in 2005 trying to go back to 42A, but there were no positions. They said they found something close enough which was 56M (chaplain’s assistant), and that’s what I currently serve as.”
Like most, Escarcega thought of the early days of his career and the choices he had made and events that had taken place.
“If I knew this (56M) was a job back when I first joined up, I would’ve taken it,” said Escarcega. “But God is kind of funny when it comes to your life progression.”
He further explained how all his experiences developed his way forward in his career.
“I think everything was meant to be the way it is. I had a good time in Combat Arms, learned a bit of the quartermaster side and my time in administration,” said Escarcega. “I’ve had great experiences in every single MOS I’ve done, but by far, 56M, religious affairs and Chaplain Corps mission, has been my best time.”
Like all Army Reserve Soldiers, Escarcega balanced his military service with his civilian occupation and personal pursuits. His free time and efforts led him to the stage and big screen.
“In between my Army stints, I’ve always worked in performing arts, or entertainment of some sort, whether it’s television or theater for pretty much 20 years,” said Escarcega. “Even while on active duty or reserve, I worked in theater, both the technical side, biting sound and building sets, and performance side, acting, singing and dancing.”
He further explained that his civilian aspirations were not without notable credit.
“Back when I was in Los Angeles, I was on a TV show called 'Star Trek: Voyager' for 10 years,” said Escarcega. “The last two seasons of it, I was what they call the reoccurring Starfleet extra, so I was just the background person. I didn’t have any lines, but you can definitely see my face and make me out. I did about 23 episodes.”
He acted in various other TV shows, such as "Picket Fences" and "VIP." He also had motion picture roles, one of which was on the film, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend."
“I’m more of a theater guy, live theater performances,” said Escarcega. “I’ve done probably 20 shows professionally. I’m in a union and I’ve toured a couple of times, one being in Taiwan, and I’ve worked out of New York City a couple times.”
He stated further that as an actor a few factors come into play to earning a good living at it and that he would pursue it again, but as a hobby or something fun.
“My love is always in performing arts and it’s not something I’m going to get completely away from, but I’m married now and have other responsibilities,” said Escarcega.
Moreso, “Twice the Citizen,” Escarcega mentioned times when he would utilize his military experience in his civilian career.
“When I was doing 'Voyager,' based on a space Navy situation, some of the acting and positions came easier to someone in the military,” said Escarcega. “Using military customs and courtesies of how to stand or salute came in handy.”
On the other side of the Citizen-Soldier coin, Escarcega maximized his civilian skills and talents to better serve the Army Reserve.
“It [acting experience] made me, as a Soldier and religious affairs NCO, very confident about speaking to people and that’s a huge part of my job: getting out there, meeting people, getting to know personnel in units, military spouses and civilians,” said Escarcega. “I think performing and getting that stage time, you lose your apprehension, and it becomes easier to talk to people.”
He went on to talk about the odd moments on set or in uniform, where co-workers would acknowledge his military status, or fellow service members would find out what he did in his civilian capacity.
“I would complete drill and go immediately to rehearsal,” reminisced Escarcega. “They would be like, ‘oh, we didn’t know you’re in the Army.’ I’d also have Soldiers say, ‘oh, we didn’t know you actually perform, like actual singing and dancing’. They would ask why I wasn’t in the Army Choir or Army Band, to which I would reply that my calling was to serve as a religious affairs NCO and chaplain’s assistant. That’s where I feel like I can be my best and serve my best in the Army.”
Expressing his passion as a religious affairs NCO, Escarcega shared some of his more memorable moments serving and bolstering his acting portfolio.
“I was in Germany for two years as the rear detachment chaplain for the deployed units,” he said. “I would get to work family readiness groups (FRG) and do Strong Bonds events. While stationed there, I got to join a performing arts group and we competed against other bases. One year, we won. It was like the Tony Award for best musical ensemble. We won about five awards for that show and that became one of the highlights of my career.”
His career took him to Iraq, Syria, Turkey and back to the United States in Washington, D.C. and areas in Virginia. He stated that they all were “positive” in some way or another. He also brought up some of his more difficult moments and assignments as a 56M.
“I served in Wounded Warrior while in D.C. working directly under the Chief of Chaplains office,” said Escarcega. I worked with a lot of injured Soldiers coming back from or going into theater. The injured ranged from traumatic brain injury (TBI) to amputees. It was tough and tough to see.
“Interesting point, I was on a flight, months afterward, and came across someone saying, ‘somebody told me about you and to look for a person named Sgt. Escarcega and that you were here to take care of me,’” added Escarcega. “That made me feel really good. I was doing something and mattered to the Soldiers in distress.”
Now, in the final days of his Army career, Escarcega focuses on, not only retirement, but some of the things he will miss about military service.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie,” said Escarcega. “I missed it the first time when I got out because we’re a family. I’ll also miss the discipline. A lot has changed and in this ever-evolving organization, I hope that we continue progressing.
“I’m not young. I’m 51 years old and served 23 years. I recently got married, and she’s back home. We decided it’s time to drop my retirement for family sake. I have given the Army much of my time and effort, and I think it’s time to hang up these boots.”
Before going into the sunset, he had some thoughts and ideas to convey to Soldiers transitioning out of service and to the men and women that will compose our future fighting forces.
“To my fellow retirees or those going for retirement, know your goals and have a plan,” said Escarcega. “I’ve always told my Soldiers to do everything with dignity and treat everybody with respect. We’re an organization that prides itself on honor in what we do, and ultimately, just have fun. Also, to future service members, if you’re thinking of joining, have no mental or physical reservations, and everybody's supporting you, do it. It’s worth it.”
Escarcega, and wife, Naomi, currently reside in Los Angeles, where he continues to work in TV, film and theater, both technically and in performance. The Army will miss dedicated Soldiers like him.