When it comes to military service, you learn to say “goodbye” far too often, as you move every one to three years in many cases. But two Army soldiers have somewhat defied the odds and been able to say “hello” and serve together throughout their entire service.
Sgt. Manuel Cortes, 36, and Spc. Hector Quinones, 31, enlisted together in Puerto Rico in 2018, took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAP) and Military Entrance Processing Station tests together, went to basic training and advanced individual training (AIT) in Fort Benning, Ga. together, shipped to their first duty station of Fort Irwin together, and recently re-enlisted together with plans of both returning to their families in Puerto Rico…together.
“I remember, once I got out of basic (training), after graduation, I called him,” Cortes said. “I told him I’m going to Fort Irwin, I just got done at Basic Training and he was like, wait, I’m here already!”
The two recounted when they first met back in their home of Puerto Rico.
“We went to the same recruiting office and they gave us an appointment and told us to be at the office early in the morning and we were the first two to get to the office,” Cortes said. I remember he parked his car right next to mine.”
Quinones said they bonded during their first encounter because they tried to calm eachother.
“We were kind of nervous,” he said. “We were talking about the ASVAB test because we didn’t think we were ready for the test…we tried to get calm and pass the test.”
They were in different basic training units in Fort Benning, so didn’t get to communicate much but Cortes said, “I remember, once I got out of basic, after graduation, I called him.”
Quinones arrived at Fort Irwin just two weeks before Cortes during the summer of 2018. They are both apart of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment as an 19K Tanker (Cortes) and 11B Infantry (Quinones) and said they get to chat everyday at work.
“I’m at Dealer Company and he’s in Assassin Company,” Cortes said. “We’re pretty much neighbors in the company.”
In March 2021, both Cortes reached out to Master Sgt. Travis Buchmann about reenlisting.
“I didn’t know at the time that his friend Spc. Quinones was from the same town in Puerto Rico and was also interested in continuing his service,” Buchmann said. “I got both of them lined up for continued service in the Army Reserve and Puerto Rico Army National Guard.”
Buchmann had a surprise for them.
“Master Sgt. Buchmann called me and said ‘hey Cortes, tomorrow, if you have time, we can do the reenlistment ceremony, and by the way, I have another guy that we’re going to reenlist,’” Cortes said. “So when we get there, I find out that the ‘other guy’ was Spc. Quinones.”
Quinones was surprised but thankful.
“That was pretty cool because when I get to the office, I found out it was Sgt. Cortes I was going to reenlist and sign a contract with again,” he said. “We came all the way together from Puerto Rico to Fort Irwin. We’ve experienced so much together.”
Buchmann shared their story with others who also thought it was pretty unique.
“Both soldiers are fine examples to the Fort Irwin community and the United States Army,” he said.
Before entering the military, Quinones worked with manufacturig prescription medication as an engineer.
He will remain an 11B in the Puerto Rico National Guard for three years and is happy to return to his mother and sister.
“The reason why I want to go back is because I want to be with them,” Quinones said. “That’s my only family right now.”
He also wants to return to complete his bachelor’s degree.
Before Cortes joined the Army, he was working with the Puerto Rican police department for about ten years.
He enlisted into the Army Reserve for six years, changed his military occupational specialty (MOS) from 19K to 88M, and will be able to work with the Customs and Border Protection and possibly transfer back to the United States.
Cortes said he, his wife Ivelisse Espanol and his three daughters (17, 14 and seven years old) have enjoyed their time in Fort Irwin and now his family doesn’t want to leave.
“When I found out that I was going to California as my first duty station, I talked to my wife and said‘we’re going to treat this like a vacation,” he said.
In their three years stationed at Fort Irwin, they’ve traveled across states and southern California, he has been apart of his unit’s champion softball team and his children have flourished scholastically and socially.
“I was looking for better opportunities for my family (when we moved to the United States),” Cortes said. “I’ve now seen my children, my daughters learn English here, and improve a lot in school.”
As they reflect on their time at Fort Irwin, Quinones said “What I’m going to miss the most is the training here because it’s really good training. The leadership here keeps you busy doing your job.”
What does he not mind leaving behind?
“I think the only thing I’m not going to miss here is the cold,” Quinones said. “Puerto Rica is pretty warm all the time, so I don’t like the cold.”
Cortes said his greatest moments were playing, traveling and winning with his unit’s softball team. He struggled to find anything he didn’t like about Fort Irwin but then said, “One of the things I’m not going to miss is that just to go out to Barstow, it’s a long drive. Everything is far from here,” he said.
Quinones said that from the day they showed up at processing station in Puerto Rico, it seems like they’ve been together ever since and he hopes that bond continues.
“We’re going to be at different bases but we’re going to be literally only an hour away from each other,” Quinones said. “We’re going to stay in contact and in touch, so I hope this friendship will be forever.”
Cortes said he plans to bring his family back to the U.S. one day.