Operation Tribute to Freedom

Faces From the Front for May 10, 2010 - Sgt. Maj. Hector Santiago, Spc. Alex Santiago, Spc. Victor Santiago, and Spc. Jimmy Rodriguez

Sergeant Major Hector Santiago

Sgt. Maj. Hector Santiago
Current Unit: 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)
Current Position: Finance and Human Resources Center NCOIC
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: Balad, Iraq
Hometown: Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Years of Service: 21

Specialist Alex Santiago

Spc. Alex Santiago
Current Unit: 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)
Current Position: Finance and Human Resources Center Plans and Operations Sgt.
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: Balad, Iraq
Hometown: Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Years of Service: 2

Specialist Victor Santiago

Spc. Victor Santiago
Current Unit: 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)
Current Position: Information Technology Specialist
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: Balad, Iraq
Hometown: Ponce, Puerto Rico
Years of Service: 2

Specialist Jimmy Rodriguez

Spc. Jimmy Rodriguez
Current Unit: 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)
Current Position: Information Systems Operator-Analysis
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: Balad, Iraq
Hometown: Ponce, Puerto Rico
Years of Service: 2

When Sgt. Maj. Hector Santiago joined the Army 21 years ago he had no idea that it was the beginning of a family legacy. Many years later, his brother and two of his cousins would follow in his footsteps and join the Army. And soon after, they would all deploy leaving the island breezes of Puerto Rico to serve together in the sands of Iraq.

Now in Iraq, Sgt. Maj. Santiago is serving as the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge (NCOIC) of the Finance and Human Resources Operations Center (F/HROC). In this role he is responsible for providing support to the units throughout Iraq which are responsible for postal delivery, finance and budgeting, and human resources. Sgt. Maj. Santiago's brother, Spc. Alex Santiago is also serving in the F/HROC, as the plans and operations sergeant, and their cousins Spc. Victor Santiago and Spc. Jimmy Rodriguez are serving alongside the brothers in the same unit.

“I am very proud of my brother and cousins since, like me, they all volunteered for this deployment,” Sgt. Maj. Santiago said.

Despite his pride in his family's dedication, Sgt. Maj. Santiago has found that serving together in the same unit presents challenges for him, as the highest ranking member of the Santiago clan.

“Sometimes it is difficult to manage situations since other Soldiers think that because we are all related my family members are going to get special treatment from me,” Sgt. Maj. Santiago explained. While it can be challenging to deal with these situations at times, Sgt. Maj. Santiago makes it clear that first and foremost he is a professional.

“My job is to take care of Soldiers equally, and that is what I do.”

Yet, as both the oldest of the four Soldiers and the one with the most Army experience, he does feel compelled to watch over his family members.

“They are my family and I am always looking out for them, even though they have proved themselves within their working groups,” Sgt. Maj. Santiago said.

Throughout the deployment, Sgt. Maj. Santiago has been there for his brother and cousins, providing them with guidance along the way. However, as this is the first deployment for each of them, there are many things which are new to both Sgt. Maj. Santiago and his family members. As a result, the foursome has learned new skills and had various unique experiences together.

Along with adapting to their environment in Iraq, the work load, long hours and separation from their families have proved to be difficult.

“It is not easy working almost every day, but I try to keep learning every day and doing my best,” Spc. Alex Santiago said. “It is difficult to be away of home, but it is our job and we need to complete our mission,” Spc. Victor Santiago added.

Throughout their time in Iraq, the Soldiers have relied on one another to make life easier.

“I know that having my brother and my cousins with me has helped me a lot. It is good to have someone you love near you. Like every family, we have our differences, but in the end we always support each other.” Spc. Alex Santiago said. “It means a lot to me because we have always been close as a family and we can continue that relation here in Iraq, regardless of the stress, work, or mission,” Sgt. Maj. Santiago added.

Just spending time together has taken some of the stress off of the Soldiers during their deployment.

“Victor and I work in the same office and my other cousins work in the same compound, so we see each other on a daily basis,” Spc. Jimmy Rodriquez said. “I go to the gym with Alex and Victor a few times a week and we all go to the theater to watch movies together almost once a week. Sometimes we go to eat together or just get a cup of coffee at the nearest Green Beans.”

Despite the challenges this deployment has brought, the Soldiers feel good about helping their unit contribute to the Army's overall mission in Iraq.

“We are essential to the drawdown of U.S. Forces in Iraq,” Spc. Alex Santiago said.

Following his commissioning through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at JMU, he will report to Fort Rucker, Ala., where he will complete Aviation Officer Basic Course (OBC). Unlike his sister who serves in military intelligence, he has chosen to serve in an aviation unit.

Spc. Alex Santiago plans on finishing his degree at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, and Spc. Jimmy Rodriguez will begin a PhD program and continue to run his sports bar. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, Sgt. Maj. Santiago will receive orders from the Army directing him to his new duty location.

“Once we get back we are going to continue our lives, but we will always have this experience in common. We are going to be more mature and will always have good stories and jokes to share with the rest of the family during family reunions,” Spc. Alex Santiago said.

Telling the Army Story: Community Relations

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