Former Mr. America, NYPD officer continues service
May 27, 2009
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq - From the jungles of Vietnam to the streets of New York City to the deserts of Iraq, one noncommissioned officer proves his dedication through decades of service.
A 58-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, Sgt. 1st Class Luis R. Laluz, 321st Sustainment Brigade, said he remembers spending 1969 and 1970 face down in a rice paddy with an NCO by his side. Only now, 40 years later, he's the veteran NCO all young Soldiers look up to for inspiration and advice.
Laluz, originally a member of the Army Reserves in New York City, admitted he thought he was done with overseas deployments; he did his time in a combat zone and that was enough.
"But how can you put a limit to it'" said the Staten Island, N.Y., native. "You can do five years, 20 years, 30 years-is it really enough when your country needs you'"
The war on terrorism hit particularly close to home for the New York City police officer, who lost two relatives on 9/11.
With a harsh, rapid fire New York City accent and a stocky, muscular build, Laluz stands out from most Soldiers in the 321st Sust. Bde., a Reserve unit from Louisiana. The amateur bodybuilder, who started lifting weights when he was 12 years old, won the Mr. New Jersey Shore and Mr. America titles in 1983 and 1989, respectively.
Laluz said he was selected to promote physical fitness training in his unit by the command because of his extensive background in bodybuilding. He's personally taken Soldiers under his guidance to show them how to exercise properly, how to eat healthy and how to change years of bad lifestyle habits.
One such Soldier is Sgt. Joshua S. Moak, a senior land manager from Baton Rouge, La., 321st Sust. Bde.
Moak lost 40 pounds under Laluz's tutelage in two and a half months. He described his first day working out with Laluz as one of excruciating pain.
"When we were done, we couldn't raise our arms above our heads," he said. "The next day, I couldn't move my arms at all, but we kept at it."
An NCO's duty, Laluz said, is to look out for the welfare of his Soldiers. His proudest moment was helping a Soldier pass her physical fitness test for the first time in years. They would exercise and eat together, to ensure she ate only healthy, all-natural foods.
"The more they ask me questions, the more I get motivated, the more I want to help them," Laluz said. "Anybody can learn how to work-out. I could teach a chimpanzee how to pick up a dumbbell."
The most important thing to physical fitness, Laluz stresses over and over again to his Soldiers, is proper nutrition and lifestyle choices. That's the key to getting in shape and staying in shape, he said.
For years, Moak said he's tried to lose weight and get in shape. It took the proper guidance and motivation of a man such as Laluz to put him on the path to success.
"I had no idea you could get in shape so quickly. His program's way better than anything I could have done on my own," he said, adding that he was told to exchange his uniforms for a smaller size-his were too big.