Latino Inaugural Gala honors Soldiers
January 28, 2013
By David Vergun
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 28, 2013) -- A number of Soldiers shared the Kennedy Center stage last week with stars like Eva Longoria, George Lopez and Antonio Banderas.
Eight Hispanic-American Soldiers from the greater Washington, D.C., area were recognized during the Latino Inaugural Gala.
The gala was one of the many events that took place Jan. 20, the day President Barak Obama was officially sworn in for a second term.
Sgt. 1st Class Aldemar Burgos, who came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico at age 17, was one of the Soldiers recognized.
"It was a real honor for me and my colleagues to be at that event and represent Hispanics and the military. It was a once in a lifetime event," he said.
Burgos added that it was "very cool to meet celebrities and have them say 'thank you for what you do.' It made us feel that the sacrifices we make are really worth it."
The best part of the show for Burgos was at the end.
"The first person to stand and applaud was Vice President (Joe) Biden," he said. "When you see everyone stand up for you, that had a lot of meaning for us. My wife was watching from the audience. You know, we could never afford to attend these types of things."
Tickets for the gala were $300, but the Soldiers and their families were able to attend for free and the families received good seats in the opera house. The Soldiers and military families all got to meet famous Hispanic-American artists including Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Raul Esparza, Jose Feliciano, Juan Diego Florez, Prince Royce and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner.
Victor M. Hurtado, a former Soldier, worked behind the scenes to help make the Soldiers' visit possible.
When Hurtado was a communications security specialist in the Army during the 1980s, he found time to entertain his fellow Soldiers, singing for them and putting together entertainment shows.
Although he is no longer in the Army, Hurtado is still providing entertainment for Soldiers and other service members and veterans through the organization he co-founded, the Center for American Military Music Opportunities, or C*A*M*M*O.
"We're like a military Motown," he said, describing C*A*M*M*O's mission, which includes preparing troops and veterans for careers in music and entertainment.
He said Soldiers with talent who contact C*A*M*M*O are then put in touch with leaders in the music and entertainment industries who can help launch their careers, and there's no cost involved for the Soldiers.
"I got really tired seeing Soldiers getting ripped off by unscrupulous people in the entertainment industry," Hurtado said, citing examples of executives taking overly generous percentages of profits and charging high fees for studio time.
In addition to developing Soldiers' talents, C*A*M*M*O is working with Veterans Affairs to provide music therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. Their first location will be at Fort Belvoir, Va., and Hertado said he expects this service to spread to other installations nationwide.
A third service C*A*M*M*O plans to offer in the future is education for Soldiers who want to pursue careers in music or entertainment. His organization is contacting universities around the country with the goal of providing seminars and two-year programs for veterans.
Besides offering education, therapy and talent development, C*A*M*M*O looks for other ways to help Soldiers.
Hertado said events like the inaugural gala keep him energized.
"I feel like I'm still in the Army," he said with pride. "I'm still serving."