National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to highlight the contributions Hispanic Americans have made for the United States of America. September 15th, the anniversary of Latin American independence, and continuing until October 15th, the United States honors and recognizes Hispanic influence on America. Soldiers with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, diversify our Military. Understanding the challenges that Hispanic Americans have faced, as well as their historical role, allows us to appreciate and celebrate this annual observance.
“My Hispanic heritage has always been the proud cornerstone of who I am, a Puerto Rican,” said Albert Cruz-Bianchi, civilian deputy for support operations of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command. “My parents spoke only the Spanish language and culture within our home while traveling from base to base, living the amazing life of an ‘Army BRAT’.”
Cruz’s connection to the military began with his father, Ernesto Cruz-Ortiz, in 1951. Ernesto was from a family of 12 and joining the United States Army was a way he felt he could have independence. His first assignment was serving with the 65th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed “The Borinqueneers” (Borinquen) known for the original Taino Indian name for Puerto Rico, during the Korean War. In 2016 “The Borinqueneer” Soldiers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of Congress’ highest expressions of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions. It is a rare accolade with 173 institutions, people, or events awarded with the Congressional Gold Medal.
Ernesto only spoke Spanish when he joined the U.S. Army, but soon realized that learning English was imperative to his success. After learning English he was stationed in Germany, where he would learn German as well. Being a Puerto Rican family, learning two additional languages, and serving in foreign countries all contributed to their family’s diversity.
Cruz joined as an enlisted Soldier to serve with his father and learn the art of leadership. He also felt fortunate to learn and serve under battle-tested Korean and Vietnam senior combat arms non-commissioned officers and officers. Serving as an NCO provided him the leadership foundation and rite of passage to wear the “Green Leadership Tab” worn by both officers and NCOs in leadership positions. He commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant through the Army Ordnance Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Program at the University of Kentucky and served in various leadership positions for over 20 years.
“I joined the military in 1975 upon my graduation from Fort Knox High School so I could serve as an armor crewman on the M60A1 Tank with one of the greatest NCOs in the U.S. Army, my dad,” said Cruz. “He was and will always be my role model for his distinguished career of 30 years.”
Cruz had the distinct honor to serve in the same unit as his father from 1976 till 1979 with the 2nd Battalion 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division, on “The Rock” at Kirch Goens, Federal Republic of Germany. Cruz served as an M60A1, armor crewman, for three years as a sergeant in charlie company and his father as a first sergeant of bravo company. After serving three years as an enlisted Soldier, Cruz spent two years as an armor crewman officer, then spent nearly 20 years as an ordnance corps officer. His brother, Nelson Cruz-Bianchi, served in the U.S. Army from 1995 to 2022 and his other brother, Ernesto Cruz Jr., served in the U.S. Navy from 1973 to 1977. The Cruz family have felt a strong sense of patriotism for defending their nation.
“I have lived and served through many significant events during my 47 years of federal service,” said Cruz. “From watching the Vietnam conflict being televised every night, to protecting the Fulda Gap as an M60A1 tanker in the Federal Republic of Germany, to Desert Shield/Storm, and the terrorist acts of 9/11.”
These historical events are the foundation of Cruz’s selfless service and have fueled his continuation as a Department of Army Civilian for 20 years.
“It’s important that Soldiers be proud of their culture and always educate others,” said Cruz. “I’m extremely humbled to have been asked to share my Hispanic Heritage story, for life is too short…’Yo soy un Borincano!’ (I’m a Puerto Rican)