FORT BUCHANAN, Puerto Rico –
The U.S. Army story would not be complete if it did not include the contributions made by Hispanic Americans. This ethnic group has an honorable military service record dating back to the Revolutionary War. That is why Hispanic Heritage Month allows us to recognize and appreciate the contributions of our Hispanic American Soldiers, Army Civilians, and family members, who live by the core Army values every day.
One of the most memorable contributions of Hispanics can be seen through the eyes of the Borinqueneers. The unit was active from 1899 to 1956 and, in 1959, reconstituted as part of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard.
The Borinqueneers were the only Hispanic unit from the Korean War to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Many recognize this as the last battalion-sized bayonet assault in Army history. Today, the youngest of the surviving members are in their eighties and nineties.
Many hear these stories and can only imagine. At Fort Buchanan, we are blessed because we have the privilege to see members of the Borinqueneers around post almost daily.
One of the members of the Borinqueneers that frequently can be seen around the post is Victor Labarca, a Korean War veteran.
"I am very proud to see these young Soldiers who serve with a great sense of dedication," said Labarca, who served in Korea in 1950, wearing the Sentry Box uniform patch, also known as Garita, currently used by the U.S. Army Reserve 1st Mission Support Command.
"That patch is very special. To us in Korea, it meant that we had a piece of Puerto Rico with us on the battlefield," added an emotional Labarca during an interview a few years ago.
But at Fort Buchanan, we can honor the sacrifice of past generations, such as the Borinqueneers, and first-hand witness the significant contributions the new generations of Hispanic Soldiers make every day.
With ten years of service in the Army Reserve, Staff Sgt. Liza Baez is a member of that new generation of U.S. Army Soldiers from Puerto Rico. She has excelled in and out of uniform.
"I have played professional basketball successfully for a long-time representing Puerto Rico. When I joined the U.S. Army Reserve, I quickly realized that the same skills that you need to be a successful professional athlete are the same ones you need to be a Soldier: discipline, dedication to duty, and the ability to focus on your mission," said a proud Baez who is a Puerto Rico native.
Baez also reflected on her Hispanic ethnicity.
"I am proud to be Hispanic and to be a U.S. Soldier. Everywhere I go, I honor past generations of Hispanic Soldiers by being professional and by doing my very best in everything I do while trying to inspire others to do the same, regardless of their ethnicity. We all are Soldiers," said Baez, a Culinary Specialist in the Army Reserve.
According to the U.S. Army Equity and Inclusion Agency, today, more than 17 percent of America's Soldiers and 7 percent of Army Civilians are of Hispanic or Latino descent. A large proportion of Fort Buchannan's workforce is of Hispanic origins.
Fort Buchanan serves a diverse military community of approximately 15,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard military, Marine Corps Reserve, and Navy Operational Support Center.
The military installation also offers critical services to the Department of Defense civilian population, veterans, retirees, and their families, as well as more than 30 federal agencies in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.