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NEWS | July 17, 2015

Junior Soldiers take lead in convoy operation

By Story by Sgt. Victor Ayala 83rd USARRTC

ORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. - Nearly 70 Puerto Rican Reservists with the 432nd Transportation Company, 1st Mission Support Command, traveled more than 2,700 miles from Fort Riley, Kansas, to Fort Hunter Liggett, California. The two-week mission successfully concluded July 16, when the Soldiers of the 432nd offloaded crucial medical equipment and support vehicles for a number of medical Reserve units who will be training at Fort Hunter Liggett during the month of July. The mission's success was made possible by a combination of teamwork, discipline, and the budding talents of the 432nd's future leaders. Young Soldiers, like Spc. Jose Pastrana and Spc. Marynelsie Abreu, took turns leading the company and, with the support of their mentors, helped ensure the safe arrival of both cargo and personnel.

"We let everybody lead," said Staff Sgt. Antonio Alvarado, a squad leader and Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, native. "So that by the time they are promoted and we retire, they will continue with the knowledge and good habits their seniors had."

Young Soldiers like Pastrana and Abreu are supported and guided by their noncommissioned officers, but this doesn't mean they're coddled, said Alvarado. The goal is to raise confident, capable leaders who prioritize mission success and emphasize safety. This involves giving the younger Soldiers more and more responsibility as they progress.

"We let them do everything from writing manifests to holding briefings," said Alvarado. "They'll need these skills in the future, so we encourage them to lead so they can feel comfortable when it's time for them to take over."

For Pastrana, a Caguas, Puerto Rico, native, serving in the military means leading and adapting. Though he'd driven on similar cross-country missions in years past, Pastrana had never led Soldiers on a major convoy before this year. He led a 12-truck element of the convoy on July 15, and acted as assistant convoy commander the day prior. 

Pastrana credits the success of his two-day leadership stint to the bonds he forged with his fellow Soldiers, as well as the mentorship he received in the past.

"It was great leading the group," Pastrana said. "I've had great mentors. Since the first day I joined this unit, I asked questions if I had them. I also watched other Soldiers act as convoy commanders and I always took notes. It also helps that I have the respect of my fellow Soldiers. It was easy, but it was easy because of them."

Abreu, a Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, native and nursing student at the Colegio Universitario de San Juan, was equally enthused to have led her fellow Reservists. She, too, led a 12-truck element of the convoy for one day and acted as assistant convoy commander for another.

"I was nervous at first, but I had to find confidence in the role,"Abreu said. "It was challenging thinking it through, but as soon as we started the mission, Soldiers were collaborating and made everything easy."

Pastrana and Abreu were challenged by the experience, but found motivation in the fact that they were helping a medical unit to conduct their training. Abreu, whose passion to help people led her to pursue nursing in college, was especially thrilled at the prospect.

"Taking care of people is my passion," she said. "When I heard that the mission was to help a medical unit, I felt great. It makes me feel good to help battle-buddies I haven't even met."

The up-and-coming leaders of the 432nd will be returning soon to their native Puerto Rico, but Abreu says the experience gained during their long journey across the continental United States will stay with them through their Army careers.

"The NCOs trusting their Soldiers to handle the details and take control of smaller groups really helps us grow," said Abreu. "It's an awesome experience. It really gives me an appreciation for my leaders and the pressures they are under."