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Hispanic Reservists From Queens Mobilized
From Hoy
February 24, 2003

By Jose L. Llanes

It was the German author Bertold Brecht who spoke about the conflict between social and family responsibilities, and the pride of a completed mission coupled with the pain of those left behind.

Many of these feelings were in the air yesterday [February 23], in the good-bye ceremony for more than 200 reservists for the US Army, Division 77, Company 237, also known as the Regional Support Command.

Over the last few months, during intensive preparations for war, this division has seen more than 3,000 of its members leave for command centers where they will receive final training before being sent to their destination, which has not been revealed.

Especially considering this company's task, "the repair and maintenance of motorized equipment," and from the tone of the words of its leader, General Richard S. Colt, one can get an idea of where these troops are going.

"They've wanted this war since September 11th, when we lost six of our own. The troops will complete the mission with dignity, caring for one another and returning home," said Colt.

The ceremony took place in Fort Totten, an old military base located in the far eastern part of Queens. It is the base of Division 77, which consists of a total of 10,000 soldiers.

A significant portion of the members of Company 237 are Hispanic. About 100 family members helped with the ceremony, taking the lead role in scenes that were truly moving: lovers saying goodbye to one another, mothers leaving their children and vice versa, grandmothers bidding farewell to their grandchildren, brothers sending off brothers.

"I¹m feeling conflicted" started Elmer Santiago, who is Puerto Rican. He is leaving his nine-month-old son with his wife. Santiago is a veteran of the conflict in Bosnia, where he displayed boldness and confidence. "You do what you have to do."

At his side, a sad but smiling Cecilia Santiago expressed her feelings "It's very emotional, but you have to learn to struggle with the situation. When you are married to a soldier, you assume that these things will happen."

Between the two, their young daughter Caleigh hugged her parents, innocent of the situation.

On the walls of the ceremonial hall, summing up the drama of the event, the names of previous soldiers of the division, written in bronze, abounded from World War Two, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.

"It's a difficult moment because I have a four year old daughter and this is the first time I have been mobilized," said Rafael Rosa, accompanied by Charlie Lirio, both beginners in the ways of combat.

"I'm proud to come to the call of the homeland and the President," said Lirio.

"They are going to participate in a mission to make the world safer," said Colonel Edward Kamarad, the official standing to the right of Major General Colt.

But looking at the families, Kamarad said "Thank you for being here during this difficult moment."

He called attention to the presence of women soldiers who were being mobilized.

Some of them, like Ruth Román and Amy Hernández are not only leaving behind husbands and children. Like many Hispanic women, they are the heart and soul of the household, where they are in charge of the majority of the responsibilities of running the house.

"For me it is difficult, because I have my two daughters of three and five years. And I do everything around the house," said Hernandez.

"In my case it's different, because I'm a full-time soldier and my kids are already used to this," said Román.

"But for me ...," said Hernández, pausing, "all my responsibilities will fall on the person who now has to take care of the kids. My husband."

Translated from Spanish by Joshua Brustein.

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