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January 14, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

By an overwhelming vote, the readers of the Puerto Rico Herald have chosen The Puerto Rican Soldier as the "Person of the Year" for 2004.

Given five choices — Anibal Acevedo Vilá, Luis Fortuño, Sila Calderón, The Puerto Rican Olympic Basketball Team, and The Puerto Rican Soldier — The Soldier won the Herald’s yearend poll with 48% of the total vote. Following The Soldier were Anibal Acevedo Vilá with 19%, Luis Fortuño with 17%, the basketball team 10%, and Sila Calderón 6%.

2004 was a difficult year for Puerto Ricans in the military. Nine more dedicated soldiers with island addresses or roots in Puerto Rico gave their lives, beginning with Jocelyn L. Carrasquillo, of Wrightsville, NC, who was killed on March 14. The 28-year-old Army Specialist was killed on the main supply route in Iraq, when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.

Near the close of the year, on December 27, Specialist José A. Rivera Serrano, 26, of Mayaguez, PR, was killed in Baghdad, becoming the ninth Puerto Rican death in 2004 and the 23rd overall since the War on Terrorism began.

Unfortunately, the war did not end with the year on December 31st, nor did the killing. On January 2, 2005, Sgt. 1st Class Pedro Muñoz, of Aguada, PR, was killed in action in Afghanistan. A 47-year-old Green Beret, he was very respectfully called "old man" by his troops. U.S. Representative José Serrano said in New York that "with his death, our community has lost a great ‘compatriota’…who knew what it was to love both Puerto Rico and America."

It is entirely appropriate that Herald readers choose The Puerto Rican Soldier as the Person of the Year for 2004, giving due respect and credit to the soldier who has contributed to the well-being of the United States through participation in every military conflict since Puerto Ricans became US citizens in 1917.

The Puerto Rican Soldier has been particularly impressive in the War on Terrorism. Never before have so many National Guard and Reservists from the island been called up to participate in an armed conflict. Currently, there are 2300 National Guard and Reservists in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and there have been more than 7600 soldiers mobilized to support the War on Terrorism since 9/11/01, including more than 50% of the entire force of the Puerto Rican Army National Guard.

Puerto Rico National Guard Adjutant General Francisco Márquez told the Herald, "Puerto Rico National Guard Citizen-Soldiers have served and continue to serve in all phases of the Global War on Terrorism. Their participation has been superb and I have received numerous calls from Army, Air and Navy commanders worldwide in recognition of their outstanding execution of all missions assigned."

Similar positive feedback has been received from the Department of Defense by retired Major General Félix A. Santoni, who is currently the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Puerto Rico. Gen. Santoni expressed concern to the Herald that sometimes the positive contributions of Puerto Ricans to the war effort are not fully appreciated. He was, therefore, pleased to hear the results of the Herald’s year-end poll.

"It makes me very happy," Santoni said, "that the Herald’s poll has selected the Puerto Rican Soldier as the Person of the Year. Of course, we in Puerto Rico are fully cognizant of the commitment of our soldiers and the sacrifices that they and their families make in the service of our country. We are gratified that your readers also recognize this." He added, "These soldiers who are honored through your poll include our active component soldiers as well as the members of our Guard and Reserve units. We are extremely proud of all of them for what they are doing to defend our nation and to insure that others can enjoy the freedoms that we in Puerto Rico enjoy."

As Puerto Rican soldiers promote and defend freedom and democracy in Iraq, there are some who find more than a little irony in the fact that one of their major duties will be to ensure that the Iraqis can vote for a new president on January 30.

Retired Air Force Major General Orlando Llenza, a former Puerto Rico National Guard Adjutant General and currently Chairman of the American Veterans’ Committee for Puerto Rico Self-Determination, finds this to be paradoxical. "I totally support all of our troops in Iraq and firmly believe in the principles for which they are fighting," Llenza said. "But isn’t it completely ironic that our Puerto Rican soldiers may die to give an Iraqi citizen the right to vote for a president, but when they return to Puerto Rico, they cannot vote for their own president? The Puerto Rican Soldier deserves all of the honors bestowed by the Herald readers — and more. Part of that ‘more’, I believe, is the earned right to choose a political future."

Whatever the future may hold for the current Puerto Rican Soldier, he is an outstanding representative of his country and his island. He has advanced and enhanced the brilliant reputation of the 200,000 Puerto Rican soldiers who preceded him during the last 88 years, the four Medal of Honor recipients, the renowned and highly decorated 65th Infantry Regiment, and the almost 2000 soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice over the years.

The Herald congratulations The Puerto Rican Soldier and wishes him and her Godspeed.

For this week’s Hot Button Issue poll and as a follow-up to The Puerto Rican Soldier story, the Herald gives you an opportunity to say what you think should be our future commitment to the War in Iraq. What action should we take in Iraq?

Please vote above!

This Week's Question:

What action should the US take in Iraq?

US . Residents
. PR
Withdraw all US forces now

35% Withdraw after the Iraqi elections

7% Stay 1-3 years

33% Stay until peaceful and democratic



.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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