GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Tucked inside the evergreen woods of Camp Aachen, Grafenwoehr Training Area, the Regimental Engineer Squadron, 2d Calvary Regiment, developed junior enlisted Soldiers by hosting its annual Team Leader Academy, from Sept. 18-22, 2017.

The first few years of a Soldier's career is extremely pivotal and only those who have demonstrated the potential of becoming phenomenal leaders are chosen to attend this rigorous and immersive course. From land navigation to counseling forms, junior Soldiers learn what it means to be "the backbone of the U.S. Army".

To graduate the course Soldiers must demonstrate a proficiency in physical fitness, be able to run a minimum of 5.6-miles, and most importantly exhibit the potential of leadership by receiving a recommendation from their first sergeant.

Spc. Luis Zapata, a Mexican-American originally from Dallas, Texas, who enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school to seek greater opportunities in work and education, is one of those Soldiers who demonstrate that potential.

"[Ever] since I joined [the U.S. Army], I always wanted to be as successful as I could," said Zapata. "I feel that plays a big roll with me being Hispanic, to always beat my peers."

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the U.S. Army is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month; highlighting the contributions of Hispanic Soldiers toward the defense of our nation. There is over 133,000 Hispanics currently serving who play a vital role in providing strength through diversity to the Army team.

Zapata, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the RES, was one of only 23 enlisted Soldiers selected to attend the challenging Team Leader Academy. He is normally responsible for maintaining large dozers and excavation machines, but during the Team Leader Academy, he was able to focus his efforts on how to become a better leader of Soldiers.

Zapata and his fellow classmates learned the integration of tactics with Troop Leading Procedures, how to manage their Soldier's medical and financial readiness, and how to develop an ambitious Physical Training plan.

The U.S. Army relies on its diversity in talent to provide strong leadership around the globe. It is the responsibility and duty of units to groom and empower junior leaders. That is why unit led events like the RES's Team Leader Academy are so important.

The Team Leader Academy provides Soldiers with the potential to lead and a chance to excel. It also provides them with the foundation to succeed wherever they go in the future. By developing a diverse pool of talent, the future U.S. Army will have greater opportunities to operate in an increasingly complex environment.

"[My parents] love that I'm over here supporting and representing my last name, Zapata," he said. "I'm the first one in my Family to join the military…they're not here to see all the recognition I have but I know they're proud of me."