by Eric Jude Cortes
Its 1 a.m. at Fort Dix, New Jersey and Sergeant Larry Marquez doesn’t have to be talking to me. I am just some writer from a Latino magazine, and he is a soldier readying for a deployment to Afghanistan. As I take off my dress shirt, and wipe sweat from the 90+ degree heat off my face and take a deep breath, Sgt. Marquez, dressed in full combat gear, and looking cool as the other side of the pillow, stares at me. He calmly walks up to me and gently says,“We should put you in one of our vests.” The vests Sgt. Marquez and the other men and woman of Company D of the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, are nearly sixty pounds. He is fifty-five years old.
Speaking of things Sgt. Marquez doesn’t need to be doing, he doesn’t need to be in the Army at all. In addition to his advanced age (old enough to retire from many professions), in his civilian life he is a nuclear specialist. Monitoring and maintaining the nuclear reactor cores, Marquez should be spending his summer vacationing on some island. Instead, he is preparing to put himself in harm’s way in Afghanistan. When I asked Sgt. Marquez why he reenlisted (he had served in the 1980s), he responded that he did so after his nephew was killed in Iraq, and knowing firsthand the sorrow families of slain soldiers feel, he wanted “to take the place of another person’s son” who would be sent into war.
Specialist Nancy Gonzalez has the world at her feet, but right now her next stop is Afghanistan. At 20-years old, Gonzalez is the young soldier in D Company. The daughter of a Salvadorian mother and Mexican father, life hasn’t been come easy for Specialist Gonzalez. The soldier, who accounts to others and “giggles under pressure,” grew up in lower-income sections of Los Angeles and LA County, in a poor, yet close-knit family. Engaged to a former Airman, and having interned at NASA, Gonzalez is looking forward to working in NASA’s IT department once she returns home from her deployment. On adjusting to life in the hierarchical world of the military, Gonzalez told me that it wasn’t difficult, because as a Latina, she grew up in a traditional house where her “father always eats first.”
Lieutenant Joshua Cantorena was a unique find at Fort Dix, not because he is a Latino officer (there is a sizable number), but because he is a young officer. At 26-years-old, the son of Mexico-born parents, Lt. Cantorena has on a rare occasion had to correct soldiers who did have difficulty accepting that a much younger serviceman outranked him or her. Cantorena has successfully founded and operated an internet café in California, which he sold at a profit before using his bachelor’s degree to enter Officer Candidate School. Currently outranking roughly 90 percent of all members of the military, Lt. Cantorena is exploring the possibility of making a career out of the military upon his return from deployment.
If this were an article about successful Latinos, rather than Latino Army Reservists deploying to Afghanistan next month, I would still relish the opportunity to interview the three heroes I presented to you here. Even if you ignore the individuals’ military status, we are still talking about people who should be considered role models by other Latinos. A nuclear specialist, a successful small business owner, and a person who has interned for NASA, all have taken career paths that we should hope our children will emulate.
What makes Sergeant Larry Marquez, Specialist Nancy Gonzalez, and Lieutenant Joshua Cantorena so special is in spite of their already successful lives, they have taken the almost selfless step of joining the military. Sure they have their own reasons for joining that are straightforward and not canned clichés from one of those “Army of One” television ads, but the fact remains that these people will be deploying into a war-zone, helping that nation rebuild, seeing that it is longer a haven for terrorists – when they could have just as easily stuck with their day jobs.
Special thanks to:
Lance Rios – for letting me represent Being Latino at Fort Dix
Elaine Norton – who arranged and organized my visit to Fort Dix
The men, women, and officers of the 425th Civil Affairs Battallion – for being incredibly warm and open, turning what I expected to a half-hour highly restricted visit, into a full day of immersion and conversation
To read firsthand accounts of current member of the U.S. Army, visit armystrongstories.com
To learn more about Eric, randomly bump into him on the street and politely ask him some questions.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.