Peace Time Patriot

May God bless all veterans on this day! I wrote this entry in 2010.

When we honor the men and women who served in the armed forces on Veterans Day, we mostly think of paying tribute to those who fought to protect freedom and democracy. I happened to serve in the U.S. Army during a time of peace. The only conflicts to be fought then were those with my own resolve as I struggled to conform to military life and to understand orders given in a language I scarcely understood. So as proud as I am to take part in patriotic parades and stirring ceremonies on Veterans Day, I have to confess that it feels a little awkward.

I joined the U.S. Army in the fall of 1984 fresh out of college in my native country Puerto Rico. I’d like to say that I was inspired to enlist because of an urgent desire to defend the United States from a foreign threat as so many young men and women throughout history can claim. Instead, my inspiration came from of all things, a movie: An Officer and A Gentlemen starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger. It’s laughable now, but back then I saw myself in Zach Mayo, Gere’s character in the movie. Sure I realized that I’d have to endure the grueling training depicted in the movie, but I imagined that at the end I’d wear an impeccably pressed uniform and lift an admiring woman off of her feet.

I could not have been more wrong. I remember calling my mother from a pay phone and crying like a baby as I told her that I had made a huge mistake. I did not speak English. All I knew of American culture came from popular movies. I had just lost all my hair at the barbershop. There was no cool uniform and there would be no woman for a long time.

I suppose one reason I feel so awkward about being honored on Veterans Day is because I now recognize the real reason I joined the U.S. Army. I did not know what to do with my life. I did not have any prospects in my small, remote hometown in the mountains of Puerto Rico. I thought the Army would be a great way to move to the United States, earn a decent living and get free meals.  Of course, I’m not alone in joining the Army for pragmatic reasons, but my thinking now strikes me as incredibly simplistic and not as noble as those who volunteer in times of war.

Despite the absence of an enemy threat, there were still the usual dangers of living and working with weapons and heavy machinery. Those dangers were intensified, in my case, because of my lack of basic English skills. I didn’t understand the commands I was given. On the first day of basic training, the drill sergeant yelled, “Chow.” Everyone but me ran to the cafeteria. I got punished for that. Because of my poor English, I was removed from my unit, put in a basement, sent to ESL school, and I had to start basic training with a new unit.  My English, however, would continue to be a personal struggle for my remaining military days.  I was consistently misunderstood or I misunderstood others. During my second basic training attempt, I was ordered to cease fire, but I only understood “fire.”  That day, I cleaned a latrine for hours as a punishment for not following orders. These unpleasant experiences are the only war stories I have to share from my military service.

I eventually completed basic training and military training and was assigned to the Second Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas to provide weather information to artillery units. Outside of the support we provided to artillery units during field exercises, most of my responsibilities were repetitive tasks like cleaning and inspecting our equipment, preparing for inspections or reviews, buffing floors, cleaning the laundry room, picking up cigarette butts, mowing the grass, and cleaning the motor pool. My work days typically ended at 5pm. In the end, my military service was cut short by federal defense budget cuts. Given the extended tours today’s soldiers are compelled to undertake, I’m almost embarrassed to mention my abbreviated term. After only two years and 10 months, I was uneventfully released early from my obligation to the U.S. Army.

However short my time in the U.S. Army was and for whatever misguided reasons I joined, I am, nevertheless, filled with pride for having served my country.  I still reflect on what it means to be a peacetime veteran.  Did my service count?  I’ve concluded that being a soldier means being ready for battle, not necessarily actually experiencing battle. Veterans Day was meant for us peacetime veterans too. I will wear my medals proudly this Veterans Day.

Sgt. Hector Ortiz

2nd AD

“Hell on Wheels”

© hectorortiz 2010. All rights reserved.

Happy Father’s Day


I wrote part I of this poem on Father’s Day 2011.  I was inspired to add to it this year as a continued tribute to my father, who did his best to raise me. Te Quiero Papi, Feliz Día de los Padres. Que Dios Te Bendiga.


I remember his hesitation to love me

Afraid that something would be lost

An unrevealed reason betrays him

He holds me; unnatural yet warm

Firm, but gentle; hesitant but surprised

It is real; father and son

Undone is the façade


His wisdom and love – imperfect – impart

His heart sustained

His heart beats stealth

Our hearts bound in consequence

My future I cannot escape

Undone is the façade

© hectorortiz 2013. All rights reserved.

Lila Ortiz

Lila OritzQuerida Lila, I miss you. It has been a year since your death, but you still alive in my heart.  I am grateful to God for the gift of you. Our kinship is everlasting because of our parents’ love and God’s gift of baptism. The moments we shared were but a prelude of things to come. My heart is at peace because we always loved each other; there is no regret or unspoken word. There is no need to seek forgiveness. The rock that the builders rejected continues to bind us.  !Te quiero mucho, Lila!


Querida Lila, te echo de menos. Ha pasado un año desde tu muerte, pero sigues viviendo en mi corazón. Agradezco a Dios por el don de ti. Nuestra unión es eterna por el amor de nuestros padres y el regalo del bautismo. Los momentos que compartimos fueron más que un preludio de lo que está por venir. Mi corazón está en paz porque siempre nos amamos; no hay arrepentimiento o palabra no dicha. No hay necesidad de buscar el perdón. La piedra que desecharon los arquitectos nos une hoy y siempre. ! Te quiero mucho, Lila!

© hectorortiz 2013. All rights reserved.

Memorial Day 2013

Today we remember the sacrifices of every woman and man who throughout the history of the United States of America have died defending our values.

Since 1775, over 1.3 million soldiers have died in U.S. wars and major deployments. That number symbolizes not only the soldiers who died but also the pain suffered by the spouses, children, parents, relatives, and friends who loved them; they too made a sacrifice for us; therefore on this Memorial Day, we should honor and remember them as well.

Wars are a sad reality of our humanity. Consequently, we can expect future Memorial Day remembrances to be a grave day for a new generation of Americans. However, I pray to God to bless our political and military leaders with the grace of Wisdom so they may seek peace before offering up the lives of our dear men and women as a strategy to conflict resolution. In addition, I pray to protect our brothers and sisters in war that they may come back home safely both physically and mentally.

Wars have many side effects which sometimes go unnoticed by most of us; among them, suicide. This Memorial Day we also remember those who unable to cope mentally or emotionally with the horrors of war succumb to suicide. In 2012, the military suicide rate hit a record high with a total of 349 Armed Forces members taking their own lives; one suicide every 25 hours!!! I pray to God, who witnessed their life’s struggles and was with them as they took their last breath, to embrace them under his wings. Moreover, I pray to provide comfort and peace to their families. Finally, I pray that we as a Christian society are challenged to deal with this issue head on so we can prevent more soldiers from taking their own lives.

May God bless all whom we remember this Memorial Day.

© hectorortiz 2013. All rights reserved.