By Susanne Kappler, Fort Jackson LeaderAugust 21, 2008
When Pvt. Gabrielle Alejandrino came home from school one day last year and told her father Mario, a mortgage broker, about wanting to join the Army, he was not exactly happy. Less than a year later, Mario's only daughter is in Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson -- but so is he.
Pvt. Mario Alejandrino remembers the day when an Army recruiter introduced his daughter to the idea of becoming a Soldier.
"My first reaction was, 'You're going to go to university, as you should, right after high school -- not to the Army, not to the Air Force, not to the Marines, none of that," he said.
This spring, however, Mario changed his opinion about the Army. A friend told him that the maximum age for Army enlistment is 42.
"When she told me that, I looked into it. I went to the local recruiter, just to get information," said Mario, who is 36.
He liked what he heard and while at the recruiting station, he called his daughter to find out if she was still interested in a military career.
Gabrielle had just received a rejection letter from a college and was ready to take the next step toward being in uniform.
"We signed the documents on the third (of June) and on the 25th they shipped us out," Mario said. "It was last minute, it wasn't planned."
Initially, Mario was schedule to attend basic training at Fort Benning.
"When we went to the MEPS (Military Entry Processing Station) down in Miami and (the people there) found out we were father and daughter, they changed my basic training from Fort Benning to here to make sure that we stay together."
They were excited to be able to be close to each other, but had no idea that they would wind up in the same platoon.
"We thought we might be in the same company at least, but the platoon was picked randomly," Gabrielle said. "The fact that we ended up together was pretty cool."
Both Alejandrinos, who are from North Lauderdale, Fla, are assigned to Company F, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. They also have the same Military Occupational Specialty, signal support systems specialist, which will take them to Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon after they graduate Sep. 5.
BCT has presented some physical challenges for the Alejandrinos, especially for Mario who said it was sometimes hard to keep up with the younger Soldiers. However, the experience has been a good one for them so far.
"I can't wait until I graduate and get out of here, but I thought it would be a lot worse than it actually is," Gabrielle said.
"Mentally, we were prepared for the worst," Mario explained. "We talked a lot about it before we came here, especially her being my daughter and people screaming at her. I didn't know how hard I would take it."
Mario came to terms with that aspect of basic training, though.
"I knew (the drill sergeants) were going to be yelling at her if she did something wrong," the father said. "If they're yelling at her it's because she did something wrong and she deserves to be disciplined."
Gabrielle has a different perspective.
"When he gets smoked, I feel bad for him," she said.
Both agree that going through basic training together will ultimately strengthen their relationship.
"We can relate," Gabrielle said. "You can explain (BCT to other people), but it won't be the same because they weren't there; they don't know how it was."
"I think (later on) we can look back and talk about what we went through," Mario added.
Mario and Gabrielle are the first in their family to serve in the military, but hope they won't be the last. Mario has two sons and would not mind if they followed in their dad's and sister's footsteps.
"That would be ideal," he said.
The fact that his daughter -- or his sons, if they choose to serve -- might face deployment does not deter Mario.
"If she has to go, I understand she has to go," he said. "She's my daughter, but she's also ..."
"... a Soldier," Gabrielle finished.