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Officer embraces the ‘Borinqueneer’ spirit through respect for those who came before

By Michelle Thomas | USFK Public Affairs | Nov. 1, 2016

Yongsan Garrison —

 Even though Hispanic Heritage month came to an end in the U.S. a few weeks ago, there is one story left to be told about one Hispanic officer’s rise through the ranks. An officer whose story starts in Puerto Rico, and whose respect for those who came before him embraces the Borinqueneer spirit of commitment and perseverance.

Brigadier Gen. Raul E. Escribano, currently assigned as the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, C/J-2, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea, grew up in Puerto Rico, and is one of the highest ranking Hispanic officers currently serving in the U.S. Army.

"Growing up in Puerto Rico, you hear stories about the 65th Infantry Regiment. But I must admit, I did not realize how heroic their actions really were until I learned the ‘Borinqueneers’ received the Congressional Gold Medal," said Escribano.

 "Their legacy is not solely what they accomplished as a unit in combat, but a reminder of what selfless service is all about. Every one of them served with honor and distinction. The courage and devotion shown by the Borinqueneers inspires me to continue to serve."

Shortly after Puerto Rico became part of the United States in 1898, a regiment of Puerto Rican soldiers was formed. The U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, also known as the "Borinqueneers," defended the homeland and patrolled the Panama Canal Zone during World War I. They would go on to fight in Europe during World War II. And, during the Korean War, they fought in the mud and snow and earned nine Distinguished Service Crosses, approximately 250 Silver Stars, more than 600 Bronze Stars, and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts.

More than six decades later, and rightly deserved, the historic national ceremony awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment Borinqueneers of Puerto Rico was held April 13, 2016, at the U.S. Capitol.

During his closing remarks, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan commented that "it takes a certain caliber of men" to fight for a country, who at the time, "discriminates against you."  

Approximately 61,000 Puerto Ricans who fought during the Korean War came from the island, many having served with the 65th, many volunteered for multiple tours. Throughout the conflict, 3,540 Puerto Ricans became casualties of war, of whom 747 were killed in action.

Called to duty during a tense time socially in the U.S., these Puerto Ricans "answered the call to duty…they became Soldiers," noted Escribano.  

Heroes of the past revisited  

Last September, during a Republic of Korea Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs event held in Seoul, Korea, Escribano met Angel L. Acevedo Bernard, Carlos M. Peña Lozano and Ramόn de Jesus Santiago Nuñez, fellow Puerto Ricans who fought with the 65th Regiment during the Korean War more than sixty seven years ago.

"Knowing that these Veterans, back in the 1950s, left their homes and loved ones at an early age, to protect and defend a country and people they have never met…it’s simply courageous" said Escribano." I could see it in their eyes…every one of them was proud to have served our country."

 According to Escribano, they "were amazed by the beautiful country the Republic of Korea had become and graciously conveyed their respect and admiration for how well the people of Korea had treated them during their short visit. Besides being proud of the highly developed Korea, they were astounded and deeply touched by the love of the Korean people."  

Building on a legacy of service

Escribano’s family history is also steeped in military tradition and commitment. His father, two uncles, and his brother have also served in the military.

"Soon after I started college in 1980, I decided to join the ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] and had the opportunity to meet other cadets, who like me, wanted to learn more about the profession of arms. It was the ROTC Program from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez that taught me the Army values and defined me as a future officer. I never imagined serving this long. In fact, my goal was to become a Captain, complete my military commitment, and join the civilian workforce. However, one opportunity led to another, and here I am 31 years later."

 Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in Military Intelligence (MI) upon his graduation from the University of Puerto Rico in 1985, he was a Distinguished Military Graduate and received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

Escribano is one of the few Hispanic U.S. Army general officers serving on active duty today, and encourages current and future Soldiers, regardless of race or nationality, to seize opportunities and seek out a mentor.

 "I’ve had multiple mentors and coaches along the way," said Escribano. "Fortunately, I crossed paths with two phenomenal mentors who shaped my way of thinking about the military."

 At the rank of lieutenant colonel, Escribano met the person who influenced his military career the most.

"This officer taught me how to train Soldiers and inspired me to do my very best every day," he noted.

To this day, he remembers his daily interactions with retired Lt. Gen. Mary Legere and the profound impact of her personal and professional example. Escribano distinctly remembers the command climate Legere established in her command and how it shaped the relationship amongst leaders and influenced Soldiers.

"Her leadership motivated us and taught all leaders the importance of working collectively to support family members and train our Soldiers to achieve new heights," Escribano recalls.

His advice for new officers and enlisted is simple.

"The Army will give you unimaginable opportunities you will not be able to find anywhere else. Embrace them!" said Escribano. "From leading and caring for Soldiers and families, to meeting and working with extraordinary people, you will have a journey like no other. It is you who will make the choices that will ultimately determine your destiny. Seize the moment, do your best, and make a difference. Enjoy the ride and serve with honor. Make us proud!"