Inaugural General Cavazos Internship group reflects on their past year

By Amy TurnerOctober 4, 2021

Capt. George Vargas poses with Cadets during his time as a General Cavazos Intern. He is part of the first group of Cavazos interns to be sent out to universities. Upon completing the internship, Vargas will head to his Captain's Career Course. (Photo provided by Capt. Vargas)
Capt. George Vargas poses with Cadets during his time as a General Cavazos Intern. He is part of the first group of Cavazos interns to be sent out to universities. Upon completing the internship, Vargas will head to his Captain's Career Course. (Photo provided by Capt. Vargas) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The General Cavazos Internship Program was created with the goal of increasing Hispanic officers in the Army Officer Corps. The program was named after Richard E. Cavazos, the first Hispanic to earn the rank of brigadier general and the only to become a 4-star general. A highly decorated officer, He earned two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Legion of Merit awards, five Bronze Stars for Valor, and the Purple Heart during his 33 years of service in the Army.

Honoring his legacy, 30 lieutenants were sent out to Hispanic Serving Institutions to help recruit potential students into the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program and to mentor current Hispanic Cadets as they prepare to commission. They will be at these universities for anywhere from 15-18 months. Many have been promoted to captain.

“This amazing program positions newly commissioned officers around the nation to share their stories with potential ROTC recruits and helps inspire trust in our great Army,” Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, Commanding General of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, said. “As you know; we are a powerful, diverse nation and our highly talented officer corps should reflect this diverse talent. Based on my initial observations as the new Commanding General of Cadet Command and Fort Knox; we are in good hands and our future is looking better because of these initiatives.”

The inaugural year for the Cavazos interns was not without challenges. The then lieutenants were immediately met with COVID-19 concerns as campuses were still meeting mostly in virtual settings.

They also faced challenges as they worked to overcome language barriers and educational barriers.

To help the interns face these challenges, they are sent to the Masters Education Course (MEC) at the University of Louisville. During this course, they’re given the tools and resources they will need to carry out their mission.

These interns have another tool at their disposal — their stories. Most of the current Cavazos Interns come from Hispanic backgrounds and speak Spanish, which allows them to share a personal connection with both Hispanic Cadets and their families.

Col. Stephen Ruth, director of Task Force Strategic Officer Recruiting Detachment (SORD), believes the internship strengthens ROTC programs, the interns themselves and the Army as a whole. Through the telling of their Army stories, the interns really start to believe in the power of their stories.

Capt. Adrian Sanchez gives a speech to a platoon of 6th Regiment, Advanced Camp after they have successfully completed the rappel tower at Fort Knox, KY on July 3, 2021. | Photo by Griffin Amrein, CST Public Affairs.
Capt. Adrian Sanchez gives a speech to a platoon of 6th Regiment, Advanced Camp after they have successfully completed the rappel tower at Fort Knox, KY on July 3, 2021. | Photo by Griffin Amrein, CST Public Affairs. (Photo Credit: USACC PAO) VIEW ORIGINAL

“When this young person has done all that, they have told their story to the Cadet of why they are in the Army, why they chose this branch and what cool things they have done, the more times you tell that story…,” Ruth said. “You start truly believing the depths of what you’re saying verses effectively regurgitating what you are supposed to do or say — they come do that because they really do believe and really are sold and really are committed.”

Capt. Adrian Sanchez is a first generation American with family from Mexico. After high school, Sanchez enlisted believing that college was beyond his grasp. After a few years of service he was introduced to the Green-to-Gold program through a friend and was able to receive his college education while completing the Army ROTC program at San Diego State University. Now, he wants other Hispanic students to know that a college degree is possible and that the U.S. Army and Army ROTC is one way to do it.

“Even if I could get one prospective student into the doors at Arizona State University (ASU) Army ROTC and maybe compete for a scholarship, that would be a success for me,” Sanchez said. “I know as a high school student who thought of going to college, it seemed insurmountable. There was no way that that a school was going to take me. I didn’t know about the SAT or the ACT, I didn’t know about scholarships, that was because of my family's background. I wanted to be able to open those doors for someone and let them know you do have options, just as much as the 4.0 valedictorian. They just might not know how to utilize those resources out there. That portion of the Cavazos internship has been the most fundamentally changing for me. The opportunity to show someone that ‘hey these doors are open for you too.’”

Sanchez isn’t merely concerned with getting Hispanic students into the program, he also has a strong drive to see his Cadets succeed. One way he does this is through an academic mentorship program, getting students help with classes and work outside of their ROTC courses.

“One of my goals is to help the freshman experience, the first-year experience, and helping people build that comfort in school,” Sanchez said. “ROTC is easy but a lot of these other classes might not be, especially if you are doing something hard like a medical degree or engineering or something like that. For a freshman taking “Introduction to the Army’, that is a super easy class that I can teach literally anyone, but that kid might be taking macroeconomics 101.”

Another intern using his story to help connect with students and families is Capt. George Vargas, who had never even considered joining the military until enrolling for college. Vargas’s father was an enlisted Combat Medic Soldier who had concerns about his son joining the ranks. His father advised him to ‘go the officer route’ if Vargas decided the military was for him.

“Those are the kind of friction points we hit a lot being a Cavazos Intern is dealing with the Hispanic population and understanding where they are coming from culturally, because a lot of Hispanic families don’t like the idea of their son or daughter, or grandson or granddaughter joining the military,” Vargas said.

Capt. Pauline Ovalle poses with Cadets from Claremont McKenna College after completing their Combat Water Survival Test (Photo provided by Cpt. Ovalle)
Capt. Pauline Ovalle poses with Cadets from Claremont McKenna College after completing their Combat Water Survival Test (Photo provided by Cpt. Ovalle) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Vargas isn’t alone, other Cavazos interns such as Capt. Pauline Ovalle, at California State University San Bernardino, have faced obstacles in overcoming several Hispanic family’s suspicion and fear of the military.

“Hispanic parents, like mine, do not think highly of the Central American militaries,” Ovalle said. “Therefore, their biases run onto the U.S. Army/military.”

Ultimately Vargas joined Army ROTC at the University of the Incarnate Word and was surprised by all the opportunities opened up to him through his involvement in the program.

“There are a lot of good opportunities, not just for your family but for yourself in developing your career and developing something that is better than yourselves,” Vargas said. “I’ve been in the Army for four years, not very long. I was able to get a career out of school, there are not many jobs or degrees that will allow you to get that career right out of school.”

Now, through his participation as a Cavazos Intern at Saint Mary’s University, he is able to relieve some of the concerns felt by many Hispanic families who have someone considering joining the Army through Army ROTC.

“This is a completely new program I came into,” Vargas said. “Seeing the Army looking into these things now, gives my parents, and I know, a lot of other parents, some relief in the fact that the Army does care about these things and about creating diversity in the Army ranks and culture. The fact that we are making strides lets everybody know we are not just focused on combat and other things that we have a stigma for thinking about, it gives them great relief that there are programs like this. They are very happy that I am here.”

As the Cavazos interns prepare to exit the internship to attend their Captain’s Career Course, they are hopeful for the next group of interns and the future of the program.

“My biggest advice will be to make the best of it and always seek ways to improve the program and the Cadets,” 1st Lt. Saul Navarro, an intern at New Mexico State University, said. “Your time in the university is pretty short to be honest, so do your best and help the Cadets as they will be following behind us as leaders in the Army.”

As the program continues, interns are hopeful that in the future all the Cavazos interns would be able to speak Spanish and come from a Hispanic background.

“[The Program] should definitely continue to do its work as long as we have quality Cavazos interns,” Capt. Juan Botello, an intern at Texas A&M International University, said.

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