By Mari-Alice Jasper Fort Campbell CourierOctober 11, 2018
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm that pummeled Puerto Rico Sept. 20, 2017, with 155-mile-per-hour winds, brought a young ballerina to the United States with a mission -- to join the U.S. Army.
In the eye of the hurricane
When Hurricane Maria hit the island, Pfc. Tanairy Franqui-Guzman, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 184th Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) and a native of Camuy, Puerto Rico, sought shelter at her parents' house up the road from her home.
"It was very stressful for [my Family and me] when the hurricane came. At the eye of the storm there was a two-hour calmness and we had time to get out of the house and just look around," she said. "I remember seeing the house across from my parents, and it was a wooden house built just like mine … it was completely gone. There was nothing there."
After the storm passed, Franqui-Guzman returned to her home, to find the roof and much of the interior was damaged beyond repair. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's entire electrical grid failed, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. One month after the storm, 21 percent of customers were restored to power. The hurricane also made water system inoperable. Debris from the storm and the subsequential 41,000 landslides shut down all but 400 miles of the island's 16,700 miles of roads. Ninety-five percent of cellular sites were knocked out by Hurricane Maria, making long-distance communication almost impossible, according to FEMA.
A one-way flight to Nashville
For days on end, Franqui-Guzman had no contact with her husband, Spc. Emmanuel Hernandez, U.S. Army Reserves, who left two weeks before the hurricane to begin basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. When they finally spoke, Hernandez pleaded with her to join the Army and leave the island.
Franqui-Guzman boarded a plane at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, Carolina, Puerto Rico and flew into Nashville International Airport, Nashville. She arrived Oct. 22, 2017.
She chose this region so she could be near her brother, Spc. Alan Franqui-Guzman, who serves in A Company, 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. "A lot of people think I only joined the Army because my husband did, but it's really the other way around," Franqui-Guzman said. "During my first year of college I decided I wanted to do ROTC. I told [Hernandez] who was my boyfriend at the time, about ROTC and we started doing it together. That's when he realized he really liked it wanted to join the Army."
There are many service members and law enforcement officers in Franqui-Guzman's Family. Her father is a police officer. She said her father's career influenced her desire to join the Army.
"When I was little, I always had that type of personality and everyone thought I was going to grow up to be a lawyer or something like that," she said. "I really like the discipline and doing things the right way. That sense of justice. Even as a child, I was always defending everyone, including my brother. I always wanted to be working toward whatever was right. It's something that is in my blood."
After nearly two months waiting for her paperwork to be delivered to the recruiting office, she finally enlisted in the U.S. Army Dec. 19, 2017.
Franqui-Guzman graduated from basic training March 28. She completed Advanced Army Individual Training July 29. Hernandez took leave to attend her graduation and to celebrate their one-year anniversary together.
"Since we've been married and he joined the Army, we've only been together about six weeks," she said, laughing.
Then, Hernandez and his unit received orders to deploy to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba where he continues to serve.
After completing her training, Franqui-Guzman was stationed at Fort Campbell.
From ballerina to Soldier
"What's interesting is that my favorite ballet production is the Nutcracker and what is that about? It's about a ballerina and a Soldier," Franqui-Guzman said.
In her 10-year ballet career, Franqui-Guzman has served in multiple Nutcracker roles such as a flower and a snowflake. As a middle school student, she filled her first Nutcracker role as a mouse by performing with the National Ballet Theater of Puerto Rico.
As soon as she could walk, Franqui-Guzman was dancing. However, she did not pick up ballet until she was a few years older.
"When I was about 6 years old, for Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos, 'Three Kings Day,' I got a present and it was this mat that had the six basic positions of ballet with a little bar at the end and a CD," she said.
At 8 years old, she began attending classes at a local dance school, "Escuela de Bellas."
"I really liked that mat. I was really intrigued. As a younger child, I was always dancing at parties we would go to as a Family. It was probably really uncoordinated and probably all over the place, but I enjoyed it so much. I wanted to dance and that's how it all started," she said.
In addition to ballet, Franqui-Guzman has studied jazz and hip-hop dancing. In her decade of performing, she has held roles in about 100 productions across the island. In high school, she began doing pointe work while attending a different dance school, "Artes de Arecibo."
Practicing hours of pointe work prepared Franqui-Guzman for rucking in her boots after joining the Army.
"In basic training, a lot of people struggled with the boots and complained with pain or blisters, but by that point I was so used to that. I went through so much more pain as a ballet dancer wearing pointe shoes than rucking in my boots," she said. "When you are doing pointe work five or six hours a day, five days a week, you get black toenails. Your toenails are going to fall off. You might even bleed from your toenails. I don't think people realize that when they see someone doing pointe work."
Despite being comfy in her boots, she struggled to run. Most ballerinas are not encouraged to run because it affects a different set of muscles that can negatively impact a dancer's ability to perform, she said.
"I literally had to learn how to run," she said. "I don't know what was happening but I wasn't doing the full motion and I was in a lot of pain. In the beginning I had a lot of pain in my shins because I was putting all of the pressure there because when you are dancing, that's what you do."
After learning how to run, she excelled at physical training. Her core was strong from years of ballet. Her arms were strong from holding ballet positions for long periods of time.
She said her training as a ballerina also prepared her for the intensity a drill sergeant brings to an environment.
"Dance instructors and drill sergeants are not much different," she said. "Ballet is very graceful on stage, but the classes are very intense. Not even just the physical demand, but you know how drill sergeants are all in your face screaming at you? That's exactly how a studio works in the professional environment. I know what it's like to have a ballet instructor all in your face. In both worlds, your leaders are hard on you, but they care if you care."
Franqui-Guzman said her resilient character, which she developed as a ballerina, helped her persevere through basic training and advanced individual training.
"I am just so used to being in pain and having to work through it. With ballet, if you want a certain role, there's always someone else who is willing to tolerate the pain and put in the work. There's always someone who wants a role just as much as you. The Army is kind of that way. When something is expected of you, you just have to find a way to get it done. You just have to push through."
Finally, Franqui-Guzman credited her career as a ballerina for teaching her to be responsible.
"When I first started dancing, I wasn't even older to be home alone, but I was responsible for getting myself to rehearsals and preparing my things for performances. You have to be prepared, on time, responsible and disciplined to be a dancer," she said.
She remembers having to do her own makeup as a child, which was challenging and embarrassing.
"It's those little moments in your life that make up who you are as a person. The Army is the same way -- when they first give you the uniform, they just give it to you," she said. "No one tells you how to put on the boots. No one tells you how the belt goes. You have to figure it out own your own, just like I had to with my makeup as a dancer."
Franqui-Guzman said trading one uniform for the other was an easy transition for her, especially because she has been able to continue wearing her hair in an iconic ballerina bun.
"I fell in love with my Army uniform because I was able to bring something to it that was already a part of my identity," she said. "I had a bun in my hair every day for 10 years of my life. It's part of who I am."