WASHINGTON - “In the Army, anyone can make it if you put in the work,” said U.S. Army Sgt Maj. Mariel Morgan, a career counselor assigned to the U.S. Army Military District of Washington located at Fort Lesley J. McNair here. “I am a Puerto Rican woman, and I was afforded the opportunity to make it to the highest enlisted rank in the Army.”
Morgan was born and raised in Caguas, Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America, therefore, all persons born in Puerto Rico are born American citizens.
“Even though we are American citizens, Puerto Ricans do a lot of things differently,” Morgan said. “For example, I don’t remember eating turkey and mashed potatoes until after I joined the military.”
Growing up, Morgan’s family was very tight-knit, and academia focused. Everyone in her family went to college.
“I wanted to see the bigger world,” Morgan said. So, she enlisted into the military right after high school.
Morgan admitted that she did not know what to expect when she enlisted into the Army. The only thing she knew about the Army was based on what she saw on tv or movies.
She didn’t expect to get yelled at and she did not expect to have to carry around a 200-lbs bag everywhere either.
For her, she said that it was difficult adjusting to an entirely different way of life.
When soldiers born in U.S. territories and other countries enlist into the military, they must adjust to the culture shock of the Army way of life AND the American way of life.
Unlike Morgan, Jose H. Ramirez, a civilian logistics employee with the MDW, had time to adjust to the American culture before being enlisting into the Army.
Ramirez was born and raised in Lima, Peru.
“Coming from Peru, everyone was kind of the same,” Ramirez said. “Everyone was Catholic with the same background. I didn’t see a foreigner (non-Peruvian) until I was about nine years old.”
When his father retired from the Peruvian air force, when Ramirez was still in middle school, his family moved to Alexandria, Virginia.
Ramirez said he didn’t really know anything about the U.S. except what he saw on tv shows like Hawaii 5-O and Dynasty.
He said that his first impressions of the U.S. were that it was cold and that everything seemed so far distance wise. In Peru he said that they were able to walk to the store or school or to a friend’s house. In the U.S. they had to drive everywhere.
“School was also really different,” Ramirez said. “In the beginning of the year, you would get a class assigned to you and throughout the day teachers would come in and out to teach different subjects. You spent almost every day with the same students, which created a really tight group of friendships.”
After moving to the U.S., Ramirez said for the first few years, it was difficult to adjust to learning a new culture, a new language and a whole new way of life.
Even still, he said that the school staff was very welcoming and luckily at the time there was an influx of Hispanics to the area. He was able to adjust to his new life and extended his social circle from just Peruvians to now Hispanic from other countries.
Although his father was in the Peruvian air force, he said his first interactions with the U.S. military was with his high school Army JROTC instructors.
“I would have joined the Peruvian air force if we stayed in Peru,” Ramirez said. “Because my Army JROTC instructors pretty much took me under their wing, they made such an impression on me that I decided to enlist into the Army.”
Right after high school, Ramirez enlisted into the Army.
When Ramirez’s family moved to the U.S., he did not really leave Alexandria and he extended his social circle to people from other Latin cultures. He had to adjust to new social norms and cultures, but he did so with people that shared commonalities with his culture.
So, when he enlisted into the Army, he was continuously meeting people with cultures that were not like his.
Again, Ramirez was culture shocked by the Army way of life and the diversity of cultures in the military.
For Morgan, she said that there were times she wanted to give up when she first enlisted into the Army. Although she said she thrives in structure, the transition from the slower pace of the Puerto Rican way of life to the Army’s faster pace was difficult.
“I had really good leadership in my first unit,” Morgan said. “I will always remember my first unit more than any other unit in the Army because the leadership really took care of us. We all did everything together as a unit. We worked together, lived together, deployed together and traveled together.”
The camaraderie her leadership helped build, is the critical component the Army utilizes to bring together soldiers from diverse backgrounds to work together to complete the mission.
Although everyone was different, they were all soldiers.
This commonality is one of the many reasons why Morgan continues to serve after26 years in the Army and why Ramirez continues to dedicate more than 28 years to the Army as a soldier, enlisted then warrant officer, and now as a civilian employee.
“Diversity is important for the Army and society,” Ramirez said. “It makes it easier to achieve common goals and common objectives because you have people with different experiences and points of view contributing to society and that makes it better.”