By Steve Arel, U.S. Army Cadet CommandJanuary 7, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 7, 2012) -- The Army epitomizes diversity. From a maturity standpoint, its two newest second lieutenants who ceremoniously commissioned Saturday on the Alamodome field just before kickoff of the All-American Bowl couldn't be more different.
There's Frank Aguirre, the 24-year-old single nursing major who's been active in the St. Mary's University Army ROTC battalion as a member of the color guard, an officer in charge of field training exercise committees and a leader in the Cadet chain of command.
Then there's Ismael Velez, the 36-year-old married father of two boys who's been active satisfying ROTC requirements while taking a full load of classes, holding down a full-time job and supporting his family.
Despite their differences, the San Antonio students are now teammates in America's Army. They shared the spotlight in taking the oath of office before nearly 30,000 football fans, and they also share a passion: defending their country.
"This symbolizes that the military is more than just fighting," Aguirre said. "It helps bring together the country for an event that many people enjoy and can watch with their families. I like to think (the commissioning) shows the families who are not too familiar with the military that there are some good leaders, in every branch of the Army and across the military."
The Cadets were commissioned by Accessions Command Commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley. Administering the oath to Aguirre and Velez took moments, culminating with applause and standing ovations by those in attendance.
The new second lieutenants actually commissioned last month. But the on-field ceremony highlights the end-point of years of foundational leadership development that takes place at hundreds of college campuses nationwide.
The Cadets Saturday had their gold bars pinned by people they considered pivotal to their success. Joining Aguirre on the Alamodome field was Sgt. 1st Class Omar Ashley and Capt. Pedro Martinez of the St. Mary's ROTC program, whom Aguirre says constantly pushed him and were pillars of professionalism. Attaching Velez's rank were Cadet Command Commander Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald and Velez's wife, Maritza, who Velez said made considerable sacrifices that enabled him to become a commissioned leader.
Aguirre initially considered enlisting in the Army, but was pushed by many in his family, former service members themselves, to pursue officership. They told him his intellect and desire could make a greater impact at the officer level.
A nursing major at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, a partner school of St. Mary's, he joined the ROTC program four and a half years ago.
The El Paso, Texas, native is set to attend the Basic Officer Leadership Course in March, but he has to pass the nursing board exam first, which he takes later this month. He hopes to eventually be stationed with a combat Army support hospital in Germany that is regularly called into action.
"It's an opportunity to take care of Soldiers in a combat environment," said Aguirre, the first commissioned officer in his family. "That's where I think I'm best suited."
It's that focus and approach toward helping others that has made Aguirre stand out in the St. Mary's battalion.
Lt. Col. David Guarriello, the professor of military science, ranks Aguirre among the best Cadets produced recently by St. Mary's. What makes sets him apart, Guarriello said, is that Aguirre personifies the scholar-athlete-leader traits ROTC seeks.
Despite being a nursing major, considered one of the more rigorous degree programs, Aguirre managed to balance the demands required to become a medical professional with those required to become a commissioned leader. At the same time, he was able to be a leader in the St. Mary's program and an example to other Cadets, Guarriello said.
"He's going to go as far in the Army as he wants to go," he said. "If he wants to be a colonel or higher 25 years from now, he could do it. He's got the potential, the leadership, the professionalism, the commitment. He's got it all."
For Velez, the path to officership has been one filled with obstacles. He said he didn't receive a scholarship because of his age, so he had to figure a way to support his family while attending school.
Velez, a former airman who spent eight and a half years enlisted in the Air Force, left the service when his parents became ill. Moving to San Antonio to take care of them, he decided to remain a civilian and became an accountant for an international travel agency.
A few years ago, his younger brother, who had become a Cadet with the University of Texas-San Antonio, was talking to him about military service and opportunities through ROTC. Velez, who remained in the National Guard, told his brother the only way he'd return to serving in the active military was as a commissioned officer.
With the economy tanking and his parents recovering, Velez joined the ROTC program with his brother and sought to re-establish himself militarily. Because he had to fulfill ROTC requirements before and after hours and on some weekends -- and study, of course -- Velez said he missed a good deal of activities with his wife, a former airman herself, and his 13- and 11-year-old boys during the last couple of years.
"The sacrifice was worth it," he said.
Without a BOLC date, Velez, who holds a bachelor's in business management, will continue working for the travel agency and working through Wayland Baptist University toward a master's of business administration, which he expects to complete soon. Once his military schooling is complete, he'll head to his first assignment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
He attributes his accomplishments to his family and the sacrifices they have made.
"We're used to moving and trying new things and going to different countries and experiencing different cultures," Velez said. "My kids have a little bit of that in them, too. They're ready to take on this military lifestyle. They're embracing it."
Velez isn't like younger Cadets who spend countless hours with those in the ROTC battalion, said Lt. Col. Scott Sonsalla, the professor of military science at the University of Texas-San Antonio. But that doesn't discount Velez's influence. He's simply been a different type of leader -- a different type of Cadet. When he wasn't in school, he was with his family.
Sonsalla applauds Velez's achievement, not only what he has done in earning a commission and completing his degree, but also in working full-time to take care of his wife and children. And with all the demands of school and home life, Sonsalla said he's considers Velez among his most dependable Cadets.
"You can count on him to be there every day and to do the right things," Sonsalla said. "His prior service will help him excel. He's been there, and he's seen how the Army operates. He sees things differently than the average lieutenant."
The professors who saw Aguirre and Velez through the ROTC regimen say they were assets to their programs. Now, more importantly, they'll be assets to the Army.
"Just becoming an officer is special," Aguirre said. "In the Army, it's mission first, people always. I'm going to be a nurse, and that's where I can make a difference."