JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, New Jersey — Promotions are fairly commonplace in the Army, but sometimes promotions have an extra special meaning due to unique circumstances or extraordinary achievements.
One of those special promotions happened recently for U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Enriquez Baez, an engineer officer assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 323rd Regiment.
Baez was promoted to lieutenant colonel during a ceremony inside of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter on July 25, 2023. But it wasn’t the location that made the promotion special.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Baez has had a significant journey through the Army Reserve over the course of his 26-year-career, climbing the ranks from an enlisted private all the way to lieutenant colonel. A path few take and an achievement even fewer can claim.
"I joined the Army straight out of high school in 1996,” said Baez. “I ... finished my senior year of high school and then left and enlisted as an Army technical engineering specialist.“
Baez was initially inspired to join the Army because of the legacy of service of his family members and his desire to follow in that tradition. “My grandfather and my dad were both in the Army, so it was a natural selection to follow in their footsteps.”
Commissioning as an officer was never a plan for Baez, yet with help from his mentor and a newfound interest in engineering projects, he ultimately decided to put in a packet for Officer Candidate School.
“I enjoyed my time as an enlisted Soldier very much,” he said. “I really never had plans to become an officer. But I enjoyed engineer construction projects and things like that, so that kind of sparked up the interest and I had a really good mentor, retired Maj. Dave Spencer, who was encouraging and assisting me. So when the opportunity came to be an officer, I took it.”
That opportunity did not come without a few bumps in the road. Soon after submitting his application to attend Officer Candidate School, he ran into some problems.
“I was a staff sergeant deployed to the Honduras when I put in my packet for OCS, but somehow my packet got lost,” said Baez. “When that happened, I was advised the best course of action I could take would be to submit for direct commissioning to second lieutenant.”
Despite the lost packet, that’s exactly what happened during his deployment to Honduras — he received his commission as a second lieutenant.
Now, 26 years later, Baez received orders to attend his annual two-week training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. While going about his normal duties, he was notified that his promotion orders to lieutenant colonel had come through.
But the good news didn’t end there. Baez was able to get his former battalion commander, Brig. Gen. Christopher Cook, commanding general, 78th Training Division to preside over the ceremony and pin the new rank to his chest.
“Brig. Gen. Cook was my battalion commander when I was a captain, and he was a great leader and mentor to me,” said Baez. “He suggested that we do the promotion ceremony in a helicopter because that's such a unique experience that few get to do.”
From enlisted to lieutenant colonel, Baez looks back at how he’s gotten this far, and prepares to continue to excel — setting his sights on commanding a battalion.
“I've actually lived my military career, trying to excel, expose myself to things that I've never done,” said Baez. “So now that the promotion is behind me, battalion command is my next goal.”
To learn more about opportunities in the Army — both active duty and Reserve — visit GoArmy.com.