Army Heritage Is All About Family For Veteran
by U.S. Army Kristen Bergeson
Engineering and Support Center
July 18, 2021
When Jose Santoscruz left his home in Puerto Rico at only 20
years old, he didn’t know he would find family spread out all over
the United States, Europe and even the Middle East.
that’s exactly what happened, he said, when he enlisted in the U.S.
Army in 1978 and formed lifelong bonds with the men and women
serving alongside him.
Santoscruz, who is now an Operations
and Plans Specialist for the U.S. Army Engineering and Support
Center, Huntsville, knows the value of family.
He grew up taking care of his seven younger siblings and was
inspired by the heroic tales of his father and uncles, who fought as
Soldiers in World War II, Vietnam, and Korea. Joining the Army was a
way for him to help support his large family while following in the
footsteps of his elders, he said.
“I always knew I wanted to
be in the Army and serve the United States,” Santoscruz said. “And,
of course, I needed to help my family monetarily.”
Despite an initial struggle to overcome the language barrier, he
said he knew immediately that he had made the right decision to
“I couldn’t speak English very well, but the other
guys—in basic training and in school—would take time to help me and
teach me the language,” he said.
With the help of his fellow
soldiers and his family’s legacy to guide him, Santoscruz went on to
graduate from Airborne School and join the 82nd Airborne Division at
Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
As a member of the elite infantry team that specializes in
parachute assault, he routinely deployed in support of vital combat
operations around the globe.
One of those deployments took
him to the Caribbean, during the U.S. invasion of Grenada, codenamed
Operation Urgent Fury, in 1983. By this time, Santoscruz had
married, and he and his wife were well accustomed to frequent
Then-Staff Sgt. Jose “Joe” Santoscruz, standing third from
the left, with his squad from the 82nd Airborne Division in
Panama in 1983. Santoscruz said the soldiers he met during
his 30 years of service are like a family to him. (Courtesy photo by
He described an incident when he and his wife were at the grocery
story and he received a call.
“I left immediately,” Santocruz
said. “We were always packed and ready to go, and she thought it was
just a regular training exercise. She found out through the news
that it was an actual mission.”
His unit was called on to
support the Army Rangers, whose mission was to secure the airport
and its command and control center.
During a reconnaissance
mission the night after they arrived, his commander, Capt. Michael
Fritz, was killed and another Soldier, Sgt. Wyn, was captured by the
enemy. Santoscruz’s unit was able to rescue Wyn, who suffered a
collapsed lung and other serious injuries during the assault.
“He had to be medevacked to one of the Navy ships, but he’s
doing well now,” said Santoscruz. “We still keep in touch on
Santoscruz continued to form lifelong
relationships as he moved through various positions in the Army,
eventually taking on roles that allowed him to share his knowledge
with younger Soldiers and help them the way others had helped him.
He served as a ranger instructor with the Ranger Training Brigade
for five years, company first sergeant at Fort Bragg, and numerous
training and command roles at the Joint Multinational Readiness
Center in Hohenfels, Germany.
“Knowing where I came from,
going through all the schools and all the people who helped me, it
was a very rewarding experience to be able to pass down the
knowledge that I had and the skill set to help others succeed,” he
said. “A lot of the younger Soldiers I served with or the students I
taught are now colonels, generals, and sergeants major.”
2003, he put his training skills to the test when he was deployed to
Iraq as the command sergeant major of a combat battalion with the
1st Armored Division.
“The battalion I was serving with was
mechanized—which means armored vehicles—but we were in an urban
environment with people hiding in buildings,” Santoscruz said.
“That’s not a good mix because using the armored vehicles would mean
destroying the whole city, which wouldn’t have been a good thing.”
A light infantryman by trade, Santoscruz was able to draw
from his training and experience to teach the Soldiers what they
needed to survive.
Their main objective was, of course, to
come back home alive.
This required identifying what kind of
enemy they would be encountering and the tactics they would use, he
said. “That meant dedicating more time to small-unit tactics,
clearing buildings, hand-to-hand combat, and small arms.”
Santoscruz, who deployed twice to Iraq and served 30 years in the
Army before retiring as the command sergeant major of the JMRC in
2008, now serves as a federal employee with the U.S. Army Corps of
“My military experience taught me all the things I
need to know to be successful in the civilian world: discipline,
being a team player, the patience to deal with day-to-day operations
that aren’t that easy,” he said. “We, this family of Army veterans,
are a value added to our communities. That’s what our Army heritage
is all about.”
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