Veteran's Day: What does it Mean to be a Latino Veteran?

Sgt. 1st Class Luis Orengo.

Sgt. 1st Class Luis Orengo.

Sgt. 1st Class Luis Orengo was deployed in Iraq.

To be Hispanic and a Veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States may seem as a contradiction to many in terms of cultural definition. However, knowing that the United States is a vast melting pot, it is quite natural.

This is a very tough question as we, Hispanics, have been serving our country since its foundation. 

I have never given serious consideration to the term “Veteran”, as someone with a special status.  However, I have come to realize that Veterans are a special kind of breed in a nation and world that needs real role models. Somehow, I am now a part of it.

I enjoy the pride of a job well done, of mission accomplishment and the assurance that my commitment and sacrifice will keep my family and my great nation safe from its enemies, foreign and domestic.

- Sgt. 1st Class Luis E. Orengo

I uphold my commitment to the nation in a very high esteem. I grew up in the military to accept discipline and challenges and to overcome difficult situations in order to accomplish the mission.  I learned to be fully responsible for my actions and to accept responsibility, to respect those people whose ideas and ideals totally differ from mine. My purpose as a soldier was, and still is, to protect the rights of my fellow citizens even if they disagree.

I have learned to inspire others to perform their duties above and beyond what many civilians consider standards, to take action and never expect anyone to do it for me.  I learned to lead from the front, to show the path and to be flexible enough to deal with any unexpected situation in a successful manner.

As many brothers and sisters-in-arms, I have felt hunger and thirst. I have experienced long sleepless nights and the fear associated with the unknown. I know the sensation of the coldest of winter and the hottest of summer in many parts of this world, and have shed tears for fallen comrades. I am familiar with stress and know that we all serve our country regardless of location; from the thick jungles to the arid deserts; from high above in the sky to the depths of the ocean, and never ask for anything but respect. 

I have learned to miss my family and the commodities of life back home, and above all I have become grateful of the time and opportunities given to me. I now give thanks for a piece of ice or a plastic spoon, and thank those who give me a simple paper cup of water or others who sit down beside me just to listen.

As a Hispanic and a Puerto Rican, I have felt the nasty sting of racism, the rejection of my views and ideas because of my country of origin or because of the thick Latino accent in my English. I learned very early in my life that ignorance can be dangerous. I also learned to overcome these situations as I did many other challenges, trying to exceed the standards and going beyond of what was expected from me.

I am part of a community of over 3.5 million American citizens who cannot vote for its president because the law states that we are in a territory. However, that same president has sent many of us to fight wars during the last 112 years. More than 500,000 of us have served the nation gallantly with pride. We have four Medal of Honor recipients who died defending the cause of freedom in foreign lands and over 140,000 Veterans still living and hoping that our sacrifice and blood will allow us to have Congressional representation as equals among our brothers from the states in the holy shrine of Democracy.

I enjoy the pride of a job well done, of mission accomplishment and the assurance that my commitment and sacrifice will keep my family and my great nation safe from its enemies, foreign and domestic.  I keep my last names a badge of courage and a sign of pride.  As long as there are United States Armed Forces there will be a Rodriguez, Marzán, Huertas, Ocasio, Zárate, Zapata, Guillén, Rosario, Santiago, Balladares and many others who will stand for what is correct and will serve the nation with dignity, pride and devotion.

As a Hispanic Veteran I stand by the same principles of all of those who have served our nation alongside me regardless of race, skin color, sexual orientation or religion. I am proud of my service, and am committed in my heart to upholding the greatness of the United States of America and the principles it stands for: Democracy, Justice and Freedom for all.

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