FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Sept. 15 marked the beginning of Hispanic American Heritage Month. They have served in every conflict from the American Revolution to today's ongoing military operations.

With more than 40 Medals of Honor awarded to Hispanic Americans dating back to the Civil War, it is important to recognize their significant contributions.

Today, Hispanic Americans serve proudly in all branches of the military, at home and abroad. One of them is Master Sgt. Jesse Camarillo.

Camarillo said as a young man growing up in San Antonio, he was taught important values by his mother, an immigrant worker, and his father, a contractor.

"When I was a child, I was raised knowing how to be respectful. I was taught unity and about family. Despite our differences," Camarillo said.

"We may not always agree, but at the end of the day, just like a military family, we come together."

A value of Hispanic Heritage is pride.

"Many people look down on pride, but we put our all into everything we do. When all is said and done, it is our name on the line. By presenting quality products we can have pride in, we bring pride to our family," Camarillo said.

Camarillo brought pride to his family by enlisting in the Army at 17.

"I enlisted prior to my high school graduation. I joined to pursue a dream in culinary arts. School was, as it is now, expensive. The Army provided me an opportunity to facilitate my dreams," Camarillo said.

His heritage influenced his decision to enlist in the Army over any other branch.

"I had many Hispanic friends in the military. They described the Army as very honorable. In our culture, we are not just connected by blood. It doesn't matter if you are a friend or extended family member, we all help each other," Camarillo said.

Camarillo said he had no intent of staying past his three-year commitment, but something changed.

"I went in to get my GI Bill and serve my country, but the Army became my extended family. After I re-enlisted I knew I didn't want to leave, and would continue to serve," Camarillo said.

Camarillo served as a food service specialist in Operation Desert Storm. He deployed again in 2003 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom as a senior food operations sergeant and in 2005 with the 4th Infantry Division. He has been an enlisted aide for three different generals, most recently the army deputy chief of staff for G-3/5/7.

He currently serves as Belvoir's Public Affairs NCOIC, while assisting the command group with their NCOIC responsibilities.

"One of the great things I've seen in the Army is the awareness Equal Opportunity raises across the board," Camarillo said. "All nationalities are truly celebrated, observed, and brought to the forefront.

"Speaking of pride," he continued, "when I was in the culinary field, the dining hall would always go out of its way. If we were celebrating Hispanic or Asian Pacific culture it wouldn't matter, each made contributions that deserve to be recognized," Camarillo said.

Outside of the Army, Camarillo said he believes things are a bit different.

"I see cartoons that depict those with Hispanic heritage as lazy, when, in fact, we are one of the hardest set of workers. Yes, we take a lot of menial labor jobs, but we put our all into each and every project. I noticed blacks, Asians, and just about all ethnicities are stereotyped in one way or another. You don't see that in the Army," Camarillo said.

When Camarillo is not in uniform, one of the things he enjoys is... cooking.

"I enjoy being at home at creating new dishes. I love bringing joy to others through food. It's a family event when we cook," Camarillo said.

Another way Camarillo brings joy to others is through his faith.

"Taking the time to help others is something my family and the military has instilled in me. I feel I can really help by ministering. I was recently ordained, and, to me, God comes first, everything else follows. Our entire country was built on the words, 'in God we trust,'" Camarillo said.

In true celebration and honor of his Hispanic heritage, Camarillo passes his culture to his daughters and sons. His daughters are home with him, while one son, Tim, is a specialist in the Army, serving in Iraq. His youngest son, Eric, recently completed Air Force basic training.

Hispanic Americans service reflects a genuine commitment to freedom and democracy.

To honor Hispanic heritage and observe Hispanic American Heritage Month, on Oct. 15, Belvoir will have an author, film-producer and community activist speak at the community club.

Page last updated Thu September 24th, 2009 at 09:40