Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Roman feels affection for two flags. One is the American flag which he bears on his right shoulder above his 2nd Infantry Division combat patch. The other is etched in his heart, but you can hear it every time he speaks with his thick “Boricua” accent.
That accent might have been a barrier to his success during Basic Combat Training at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1990.
“Maybe it was funny the way we (Puerto Ricans) spoke with strong accents. We felt we had to prove that we were good enough to be in the Army,” said the 111th Quartermaster Company senior noncommissioned, 530th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 49th QM Group.
Despite the jokes he faced when he spoke with broken English, Roman said he never doubted his place in the Army.
“It was instilled into me and my brothers that we were American citizens when we were growing up in Puerto Rico,” he said.
Roman was born in Paterson, N.J., but his family moved to Puerto Rico when he was 7. He never returned to the continental United States until he shipped to Fort Benning for boot camp.
After 17 years in the Army, Roman will say he’s been Americanized, to an extent. He makes it clear that no matter how much he’s assimilated into American culture and the Army, he never forgets his roots and the pride of being a son of Puerto Rican parents.
Even so, Roman will be the first to emphasize balance in one’s pride of culture and Army team building, but this way of thinking came only as he developed into a leader of Soldiers.
“When you are new to the Army and you are something other than a white American, your first instinct is to associate with those who are of the same race or culture. It makes you feel safe that you have someone to relate to,” he said. “Even now you can see a group of Puerto Ricans talking over there, a group of whites over there, and a group of blacks over here. You see that among Soldiers who are E-1 through E-4. But once you become a leader, everything changes.”
As an NCO, Roman discouraged Soldiers from that sort of socializing and encouraged them to learn about each other.
“As a leader you have to get them to work closer as a team, because when you put on this uniform, it doesn’t matter what color or language you speak, you are part of the same team,” he said.
The transition to NCO is tough, he said, because it means giving up some liberties. He can’t be associating with junior enlisted Soldiers on a personal basis because it might be misconstrued as giving a Soldier preferential treatment.
Treating all Soldiers equally is a good thing, he said.
“It makes you grow as an individual and be more conscious of yourself,” he said.
When he became an NCO, Roman said he evaluated himself and admitted that perhaps he had segregated himself from others, but now he had grown. Whereas once he saw himself as a Puerto Rican in contrast to others, now he doesn’t see others as white, black or Hispanic, but as Soldiers.
What’s important for Roman now is team building, but it’s not at the cost of neglecting his roots. Roman said he still likes talking in Spanish with Soldiers as long as it doesn’t interfere with work or cause others to feel left out.
In his mind, a Soldier can be a proud Puerto Rican American and yet not cause division in the unit as long as one is courteous to others.
He credits the Army and the leadership responsibility he has held for the person he has become.
“That’s what makes us different from the average civilian who doesn’t wear the uniform,” he said. “You come into the Army as a kid, knowing no better, but if you stay in the Army long enough you mature and get groomed as an outstanding citizen.”
Note: “Pathways” highlights the paths Soldiers take as they steer through American culture in the U.S. Army.
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