AUSTIN, Texas – Sgt. 1st Class Jose La Torre has served in the Army for 26 years, including nine years as a Reserve Soldier and nearly 17 years on active duty.
He currently works as the Operations Noncommisioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the Support Battalion at Army Futures Command headquarters.
The command recently interviewed La Torre on his experiences as a career Soldier as part of Army Service Week, which celebrates the service of America’s Veterans, present-day Soldiers and future Soldiers.
Excerpts from the conversation with La Torre, which highlighted the unique benefits and opportunities of serving in the military, are below.
The Decision to Join
The son of a prior service infantryman who joined the Army during the Vietnam War, La Torre enlisted in the Army as a Reservist in the spring of 1996.
His decision to do so came a year after graduating from high school in his hometown of Cidra, Puerto Rico, an area known for its cool climate, nearby lake and waterfalls and blue-eyed pigeons.
At the time, La Torre was enrolled in college, had joined the Army ROTC program and felt compelled to serve, as his father and uncles had done before him.
While his father didn’t often talk about his experiences as a Soldier, “we always saw him in uniform, we loved the uniform, we loved what he did,” La Torre said.
La Torre was also inspired at a young age to join the Army thanks to the 1990 film Fire Birds, which stars Nicolas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones as Apache helicopter pilots.
“I wanted to be that,” La Torre said, noting his intrigue in an Army aviation career later waned but his interest in serving in the Army persisted.
During Military Entrance Processing Station in-processing, La Torre elected to join as an 88M, or Motor Transport Operator. His extended family included bus drivers and truck drivers, so he had existing familiarity and interest in the field.
La Torre went on to serve for more than 10 years in the Army Reserve, simultaneously attending college and eventually working full-time as a sales manager, before deciding to make the transition to active duty.
“I’ve always liked the active-duty environment, from the different assignments that I’ve had with the Reserves, and the annual trainings we did,” La Torre said.
While stationed at Camp Taji, Iraq, and working among other active-duty service members, La Torre began to think more deliberately about the potential benefits of serving as a full-time Soldier. He was by then married and had young children, and was drawn to the security and support the Army could offer.
“I saw the opportunity to give my family a better life, give my family better stability,” La Torre said.
He discussed the idea with his wife, who agreed the move would benefit their family, and in April 2007 made the switch to active duty.
“We have not regretted the decision ever since,” La Torre said.
A Career Built Around Family
While La Torre’s time as a Soldier has taken him around the country and the world, including on additional deployments to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and Camp Leatherneck and Shindand Air Base in Afghanistan, he is perhaps most grateful for the ways the Army community has influenced his family.
“The environment plays a big role on how lives are shaped,” La Torre said, adding that he appreciated the safety his children felt growing up on military installations, the quality of the schools they attended and the financial security his job has provided.
According to La Torre, the access to consistent support and education “has paid dividends.” His two oldest children are currently attending college, while his youngest child is excelling in high school.
The community-mindedness of the Army has also proven beneficial. Despite the challenges that came with relatively frequent moves to different duty stations, La Torre found he and his family were able to build close and enduring bonds with other Soldier families.
“Having friends and making them part of your family” is part of the military lifestyle, La Torre explained.
The experience of serving additionally strengthened La Torre’s relationship with his father, who keeps one of La Torre’s Bronze Star medals proudly displayed in his home.
“There’s been a deeper connection,” La Torre said, acknowledging the core shared experiences of military veterans that extend across different eras.
“He understands what I went through.”
The Privilege to Learn and to Lead
In his present role at Army Futures Command, La Torre coordinates and arranges a variety of command operations, from distinguished guest visits to physical fitness tests to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
He emphasized that the various positions he has held over the years have afforded him the ability to exercise multiple leadership skills, including in the areas of logistics, management and project coordination.
The support provided by the Army for higher education also helped him attain a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and a master’s degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Management – experiences that furthered his knowledge of how to effectively guide others in complex task planning and execution.
La Torre feels lucky to have had these individual opportunities but also deeply connected to the purpose behind his service.
“I consider it to be a privilege to be able to serve,” he said.
“The freedom that we actually endure to this day is because of all the sacrifices that Soldiers have done and have gone through in the past, because of all the bloodshed, all the sweat, all the tears that have been shed, from the past to the present.”
Being a Soldier means being part of that legacy.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” La Torre said.
Serving in a Modern and Agile Army
“The Army of today is not the Army of 1776,” La Torre said when asked what he might say to someone considering joining the Army in 2022.
“The Army of today is modern, is agile, is very technologically driven, and for the generation that is growing up today, it is exactly what it is designed to be.”
La Torre elaborated that the high-tech Army of the future is already in nascent stages of existence today: “We have drones that are manned, unmanned, remotely controlled. We have virtual reality systems, we have artificial intelligence, we have unmanned tanks, unmanned helicopters. We have everything that you could imagine you would find in a virtual world.”
He sees the benefits of serving in today’s Army as multifaceted, and would encourage those considering joining to do so – whether for a few years or for a full career.
“It would be something that I would definitely consider to try, just to grow, make yourself more mature and make yourself more of a professional,” La Torre said.
As for his own experience as a career Soldier?
“I love it, don’t regret it and would do everything again all over,” La Torre said.