WASHINGTON, D.C. – The definition of 'heritage' is two-fold: One aspect refers to something that is passed down as a birthright, and the other refers to upholding a legacy. One is inherited, and the other is a choice.
Fittingly, Sgt. 1st Class Robert T. Muniz, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Finance and Comptroller Strategic Operations Integration Cell strategic advisor, said he is able to live out both aspects of his heritage through his Army service.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Muniz, who also serves as the deputy comptroller for the Department of the Army G3/5/7, Special Operations Division, said his Hispanic heritage runs deep.
“Both my great grandfathers are from Mexico and my grandmothers on both sides are from Mexico as well,” he explained, adding he didn’t fully appreciate his culture as being unique until he experienced other cultures through his Army service.
“In south Texas, a lot of people don’t leave, and I didn’t realize I had a unique culture because it was all I was surrounded by,” the sergeant elaborated. “I couldn’t even tell the difference between all the other Latin cultures that were out there.”
But, it was Muniz’ choice to live up to his family’s Army heritage that really broadened his horizons and made him better appreciate his own culture.
“I joined in 2007 because it’s something I always wanted to do, and I think everyone should try to give back and serve in some kind of way,” he recalled. “The reason I chose the Army is that both my grandfathers were in the Army. My grandfather on my mom’s side retired after 28 years of service, and on my dad’s side, my grandfather was drafted into the Army Air Corps.”
His maternal grandfather, Victor Moran, Jr., actually first joined the Navy at 13 years old by lying about his age during World War II, but when his parents found out, they told the Navy, who found young Moran on a ship and sent him back.
Still determined to serve, Moran eventually convinced his parents to let him serve, and he enlisted in the Army during the Korean War. This time, he was allowed to stay, and had a successful career spanning nearly three decades.
But, San Antonio was always home for the Muniz and Moran families, who ended up building their lives in the Texas city. In fact, all four of Muniz’ grandparents are buried on Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
Flash forward decades later, while a young 19-year-old Rob Muniz made the choice to live up to his family’s Army heritage, he had no aspirations of leaving the only city he ever knew.
“San Antonio is where the Army conducts a lot of medical training, so I told my recruiter I wanted to be a medic to stay at Fort Sam,” Muniz recalled. “But, he told me, ‘you want to go see the world,’ and he saw there was a slot for finance and told me I should jump on that, so I did.”
The newly-minted Private Muniz’ horizons were definitely broadened during his first duty assignment to Germany.
“Here I was, little me in this country all by myself,” he recalled. “Growing up in south Texas, we don’t get snow, and on my first day in Germany, I saw snow.”
That’s not the only thing he saw, either. During his first assignment, he met Delaine, a girl about his age from the Philippines whose family moved to Germany when she was little. The two hit it off and they were married before he left for his next assignment.
Today, they remain happily married and have a daughter, Neah.
After Germany, Muniz’ recruiter’s promise to see the world continued to bear fruit. He’s been station in Korea, Germany, Colorado, Washington and Virginia and has deployed to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Not only did Muniz’ decision to continue his families’ Army legacy give him new understanding and a new life and family, it also provided him with skills, abilities and purpose.
“I’m glad I listened to my recruiter and picked finance,” he said. “I like being part of a smaller career field because it makes things competitive, and I’m around very competitive and motivated professionals.
“People are always thankful for finance, especially when we’re overseas supplying funds for Soldiers or helping the commands acquire the supplies and training our Soldiers need for their missions,” the sergeant continued.
Taking those skills he learned as a finance and comptroller Soldier to the next level, Muniz took them to the ultimate level serving as a member of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
Known as Night Stalkers, 160th SOAR Soldiers are recognized for their proficiency in nighttime operations. They are highly trained and ready to accomplish the very toughest missions in all environments, anywhere in the world, day or night, with unparalleled precision using highly-modified Chinook, Black Hawk and assault and attack configurations of Little Bird helicopters.
Muniz said he drew from his Hispanic heritage and upbringing to go through the challenging selection process to be a Night Stalker and serve alongside some of the Army’s best.
“From my background, I developed a love of toughness as San Antonio can be rough,” he elaborated. “Even around your friends and family, they can be tough on you because they want you to try your best.
“I also grew up very poor, so I never complained around anyone. I just embraced it,” the sergeant continued. “I work with whatever situation I have and work to make it better, and that all stems from my culture.”
Muniz also said his time with the 160th SOAR was his first opportunity to serve in a comptroller position that was responsible for sustainment funds, working contracts and procurements for the Army’s special operations community.
“When you’re in that position, you really get to see your hard work come to action because you are supporting real-world missions,” he said. “You’re not detached from the fight; you’re part of a team that is really doing some great things for the country, and you see the results of your work right away.
“I’m very proud to be a finance and comptroller Soldier and very proud to have been a Night Stalker,” he added. “A lot of finance soldiers won’t end up in a budget position, and not every Soldier gets to be a Night Stalker – I had to earn it.”
During his time with the 160th SOAR, Muniz said he learned even more about his own Hispanic culture and Mexican background.
“We’d go to San Diego a lot for training, and San Diego reminded me a lot of San Antonio with a large number of Mexican-Americans there,” he recalled. “But, things there are so different compared to south Texas. Things are familiar, but they are also different.”
Muniz also learned the culture and food within Texas is different from region to region, which he said provides a lesson from which everyone can benefit.
“Don’t put anybody in a box and never jump to conclusions,” he said. “Not all brown, dark-haired people are Hispanic, and not everyone who is Hispanic shares the same culture and background.”
He also encouraged a mindset of curiosity, openness and understanding different cultures.
“I never get offended if someone thinks I’m from somewhere else, and I like it when people ask about my cultural background because it breaks the ice,” Muniz explained. “People are usually proud of where they are from want to share about their culture and about themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask.”
Putting that into practice, the sergeant recalled a recent experience with a Soldier from Africa.
“He’s from Nigeria, and I wanted to know his views on something I heard was going on in Africa,” Muniz recalled. “He reminded me that Africa was a big continent, and the issue was about a completely different country, so he didn’t really have an opinion.
“That put things in perspective, and it’s good to be reminded of things like that,” he concluded. “Being a better Soldier and person starts with being open to asking questions and then being open to different mindsets and information.”