FORT BUCHANAN, Puerto Rico –
Commemorations such as Hispanic Heritage Month are a great opportunity to pause and reflect on our shared history as Americans and to celebrate the rich mosaic of people and cultures who, together, built and strengthened our Army and our nation. This year, the 1st Mission Support Command celebrated “Embracing, Enriching and Enabling America” during a Hispanic Heritage event held at Ramos Hall on Fort Buchanan, October 15.
Brig. Gen. (Retired) Fernando Fernandez thanked the command for allowing him to be the guest speaker and discuss what it means to be a Hispanic officer in the United States Army.
A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Fernandez shared how, like most Soldiers present, he is a first generation Hispanic. He emphasized how Hispanics are not a homogenous group; Hispanics from the Caribbean are different from those of Central and South American and those that have grown in the continental Unites States. “In my opinion, two main traits unite all Hispanics, despite their background, our Spanish language, and our family values,” said Fernandez.
Fernandez culminated a 32-year career as an Army Reserve officer in 2015. His father, Eduardo Fernandez was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and after dropping out of high school at the age of 17, he joined the Army so that he could support his parents. “There were not many alternatives to employment on the island,” said Fernandez. “The Army provided him with a steady income with which to support his family.”
After serving five years of active duty service and being overseas during World War II, his father was discharged. “The Army provided my father with a variety of opportunities which he took advantage of to continue his education and professional career,” commented Fernandez. Parallel to his civilian career, Mr. Fernandez joined the Puerto Rico National Guard and served for 20 years and retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“My father’s story is a typical example of the opportunities the Army provided to Hispanics from Puerto Rico,” said Fernandez. “Several decades later, I also took advantage of those opportunities by enrolling in the Army ROTC program at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras.”
Fernandez joined the military during the Cold War when one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year was the only requirement. “We were then a strategic Reserve to be used as a last resource in case the Cold War got hot, and we needed to engage in war,” continued Fernandez.
While performing his mandatory annual training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi the summer of 1990, Fernandez and his unit hear that Iraq had invaded Kuwait while they watched the news. Their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Cesar Vazquez, told them that they would have to prepare because the war was a possibility. A couple of months later, Fernandez found himself in the desert of Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
“During my deployment,” said Fernandez, “I experienced firsthand how the Army brings people with different backgrounds and ethnic heritages together to work as one team.”
Throughout his deployment, Fernandez cannot recall a single incident where race was an issue. “As a matter of fact,” said Fernandez, “I believe that we all learned from each other and used our background to enhance our capabilities and get the mission accomplished.”
Fernandez commented how his short six-month deployment taught him that the Army brings together a multitude of ethnic and culturally different Soldiers and molds them into one team, the Army team.
“Through my over three decades of military service, I have learned that the Army, as an institution, advocates for diversity within its ranks,” said Fernandez.
Hispanic Americans have not hesitated to defend and show their allegiance to our Nation as nearly one-fifth of today’s Active Duty Army is composed of Hispanics. “Soldiers from Puerto Rico honorably continue to serve as they have in every military conflict in the 20th and 21st century,” said Fernandez. “In doing so, we have established a legacy of honor, sacrifice, and devotion to duty in the representation of all Hispanic-Americans.”
Fernandez highlighted the heroic deeds of the 65th Infantry Regiment which served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. “The Puerto Rican Soldiers of the 65th Infantry set an enduring example that all Hispanic-Americans serving in uniform should follow,” said Fernandez.
“Their valor in combat as well as their quiet dignity in defending our nation in times of war, although being the victims of discrimination in many instances, was recognized and awarded the Unites States Congressional Gold Medal earlier this year”.
“I am certain, as previously done by the heroic “Borinqueneers” of the 65th Infantry Regiments, that we Hispanic-Americans wearing the Army uniform, will continue to serve with courage, dignity, and pride in defense of our nation,” concluded Fernandez.
In closing, Brig. Gen. Alberto C. Rosende, 1st MSC commanding general, thanked Fernandez for his time and participating in the event. “I encourage all of you to take some time and read about the rich history Puerto Rico has," said Rosende. "As I look back to what it means to be a Hispanic, I think about the 1st MSC and how the majority of you are from Puerto Rico. All of the contributions that you make and the respect that the Garita patch has throughout the Army is extremely significant. Everywhere you go, you leave a huge fingerprint that will be there forever. And it’s amazing to participate and receive the benefit of the work that you do.”
“You have to be proud of who you are, of being Hispanic and representing our family values and everything we bring to the table as we integrate and assimilate into a greater organization for the defense of our nation,” said Rosende.
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on Sept. 15 and ending on Oct. 15. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.
The day of Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30-day period.