Band of Santiagos help each other through deployment

Story and Photos by Sgt. Eunice Alicea Valentin
196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The band of Santiagos, all assigned to the 210th Regional Support Group, a Army Reserve unit from Puerto Rico, enter a dimly lit broadcast studio, igniting the room as Boricuas are known to do.

As the four Soldiers walk through a maze of tripods, cables and towering lights, their excitement echoes off the walls as they whisper in Spanish slang to one another. Their silhouettes fall on top of a backdrop and suspended American flag as they take their seats behind a presidential-style mahogany desk, a row of shotgun microphones, reporters and a single video camera.

Bayamon, Puerto Rico, natives, Sgt. Maj. Hector Santiago, finance and human resources operations cell noncomissioned officer-in-charge and his younger brother, Spc. Alex A.M. Santiago, a finance specialist, both with the 210th RSG, 13th Support Command (Expeditionary), are currently deployed to Iraq with their cousins, Spc. Victor Santiago and Spc. Jimmy Rodriguez, information technology specialists also the 210th RSG, and Ponce, Puerto Rico natives. The four Soldiers had a unique opportunity May 13 to communicate back home via satellite and the Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System housed at the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs office at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

A few minutes into the first interview, the Soldiers’ personalities blossom with the strength and characteristics of the colorful flower of the Flamboyan tree.

“We are small in numbers, but we make lots of noise,” Rodriguez said, a common saying by Latinos who, by culture, enjoy getting together any chance they get. All joking aside, the Santiago Family was tasked to carry out an important assignment.

The DVIDS hub in Atlanta reaches out to the Soldiers’ local media outlets, and vice versa, hoping to get an individual’s message back to their hometowns as a firsthand account of their experiencesin Iraq, said Sgt. 1st Class William Smith, broadcast noncomissioned officer-in-charge with the 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 13th SC(E), and a Felicity, Ohio, native. Within a five-hour block, the Santiagos interviewed with 10 major media outlets in Puerto Rico, including Top 40 radio stations, WAPA-AM and WXYX-FM, and prominent newspaper, La Estrella de Puerto Rico (The Star of Puerto Rico).

The Soldiers conducted interviews in Spanish throughout La Isla de Encanto (the Island of Enchantment), an island in the Caribbean Sea, with an area less than 3,600 square miles and a population of nearly 4 million.

1st Lt. David R. Spangler, media relations officer with the 196th MPAD, 13th SC(E), and a Cleveland, Ohio, native, is the liason between DVIDS and the interviewers.

“I contact DVIDS and DVIDS contacts the hometowns so Soldiers can tell their stories firsthand,” he said.

This media engagement provided audience in Puerto Rico a more direct avenue of communication with Soldiers in Iraq — an opportunity not typically so easy to coordinate, Smith said.

Our job as broadcasters and news writers is to deliver the story to the populace, he said.

“There’s nothing better than a Family member or friend from your hometown hearing your voice,” Smith said.

Ruben Sanchez, a notably boisterous air personality with WKAQ-AM, interviewed the Family live and said the interview with the Soldiers was beautiful.

Allowing the Soldiers to engage personally with their home stations meets the distinct needs of the station, in relation to genre, language barriers and answering specific questions, Sanchez said.

“Rather than our broadcasters retelling the Soldiers’ story, we are able to facilitate interviews between Soldiers’ and their hometown media,” Smith said.

Some on-air personalities covered news and asked questions about the Soldiers mission in Iraq, questioning the length of time the Soldiers had been in country, when they were coming home, and if they volunteered to deploy with the 210th RSG. Others simply wanted the Soldiers’ to give a shout out to their Family and fellow Boricuas, a term referring to the indigenous Taino Indians of Puerto Rico, and now common jargon.

Puerto Ricans are known for their confidence and coolness, and these Soldiers are no exception to the rule. Sgt. Maj. Santiago, a 20-year veteran, spoke of camaraderie and professionalism within his unit. He said Puerto Ricans are known for their hard work.

The 210th RSG, which arrived in theater in last December, was integrated within the 13th SC(E) staff to provide logistical and technical support for troops throughout Iraq. This is especially significant during the upcoming responsible drawdown in Iraq, the sergeant major said, because the 13th SC(E) is collecting and reallocating equipment and resources to support missions in Afghanistan.

Another topic of discussion was the financial and political state of the small island, and its correlation to the advancements of their military careers. Without hesitation, the Soldiers said the Army offered them the opportunity to, in the sergeant major’s case, obtain dual master’s degrees in human resources and management Rodriguez.

In addition, he plans to begin his doctorate in business administration upon his redeployment home.

The three specialists were thrilled about their experiences in the Army since they enlisted two years ago, and gave a call to action. Each expressed their contentment with their careers in the military, finishing one another’s sentences and bragging about life in the service.

“Bueno, it helps that we are Family and we were very close before arriving here (in Iraq),” Alex said. “My message to the youth of Puerto Rico is to join our Family.”

The Santiagos’ interviews were successful, Javier Villa of Noti Uno WUNO-AM said. Villa said the intent of some reporters is to engage the audience as well.

Villa aired the interview live and said the interview was excellent and it raised call-in volume. Other reporters also were thrilled with the interviews also, they said.

 

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Staff Sgt. Steve Engle, broadcast noncommisioned officer with the 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a Columbus, Ohio, native, prepares a camera May 13, for the taping and live interview of the Santiago Family, via satellite and the Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System housed at the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs office at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Eunice Alicea Valentin)

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Ponce, Puerto Rico natives, Spc. Victor M. Santiago (from left) and Spc. Jimmy Rodriguez, both information technology specialists with the 210th Regional Support Group, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Sgt. Maj. Hector Santiago, finance and human resources operations cell noncomissioned officer-in-charge and his younger brother, Spc. Alex A.Santiago, a finance specialist, both Bayamon, Puerto Rico natives, are currently deployed as a family. The four Soldiers had a unique opportunity May 13 to communicate back home via satellite and the Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System housed at the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs office at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Eunice Alicea Valentin)

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Ponce, Puerto Rico natives, Spc. Victor M. Santiago (from left) and Spc. Jimmy Rodriguez, both information technology specialists with the 210th Regional Support Group, 13th Suustainment Command (Expeditionary), and Sgt. Maj. Hector Santiago, finance and human resources operations cell noncomissioned officer-in-charge, and his younger brother, Spc. Alex A. Santiago, a finance specialist, both Bayamon, Puerto Rico natives, are currently deployed as a Family. The four Soldiers had a unique opportunity May 13 to communicate back home via satellite and the Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System housed at the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs office at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Eunice Alicea Valentin)