News: Puerto Rican soldier re-enlists in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Antony Lee
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – The setting was perfect for Sgt. Hiram Villanueva’s re-enlistment ceremony - an attack helicopter and U.S. flag behind him on the flight line at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, and his wife on the phone listening in from home.
As Capt. Heather Jantsch, the Joint Visitors Bureau chief for Regional Command (South), recited the oath, Villanueva repeated it, swearing his allegiance to support and defend the Constitution of the U.S.
“I’m a believer in the Constitution,” Villanueva said. “I believe if I can do something, I have to do my duty.”
Villanueva, who is with Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, is a native of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, who joined the U.S. Army in May 2007. He is serving on his third deployment overseas and second in Afghanistan.
“I’m glad to be here to serve my country,” he said, adding that he was at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, for his first deployment and Iraq for his second.
Befitting his profession of military policeman, Villanueva’s coworkers call him the “sheriff” – though he is currently the Joint Visitors Bureau transportation noncommissioned officer in charge.
As the story is told, Villanueva acquired his nickname when a JVB civilian protocol officer tried to get to-go meals for visitors. When the dining facility staff did not support the request – because she was a civilian – the protocol officer called Sgt. Villanueva, who came through and saved the day.
After that incident, Villanueva jokingly called himself the “Sheriff,” and the nickname stuck amongst his fellow JVB service members.
The nickname is not far from what Villanueva did in his former civilian job. Before joining the Army, Villanueva worked for a police department’s tactical unit in Puerto Rico.
As a police officer, Villanueva’s job was to help control riots, among other things. It was a job that required physical strength and good conditioning, so he started working out.
“If you don’t have good conditioning, you can’t be in that unit,” he said. “People are going to stomp over you.”
Working out became a regular routine in Villanueva’s daily schedule. Even now, during his third deployment, Villanueva works out every day.
Villanueva’s decision to join the police department in the early 90s also planted the seeds for his decision to join the Army in 2007.
It was during the Gulf War that Villanueva, who was in his early 20s at the time, first visited a recruiting office and thought about joining the U.S. Army before changing his mind.
“I said, ‘It’s not for me,’” he said, adding that it was for no specific reason. “That’s when I joined the police department.”
But Villanueva could not ignore the seeds that were planted. After 16 years of working for the police department, Villanueva joined the U.S. Army.
Villanueva has a lot of pride in his heritage. In pointing to the 65th Infantry Regiment, a U.S. Army regiment based in Puerto Rico, he noted Puerto Rico has “a lot of history” in U.S. military service.
He also said his wife, who he met while he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, is a big part of his life and career.
“She’s my everything,” he said. “I’m so glad to have her. She supports me 100 percent.”
As the transportation noncommissioned officer in charge for JVB, Villanueva’s job is to coordinate the transportation for VIP visitors. So far, the two biggest visits to KAF he helped support were made by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, the Army's senior noncommissioned officer, and by Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff.
“Sgt. Villanueva is a very hard-working soldier,” said Master Sgt. Edward Carson, the JVB noncommissioned officer in charge. “When given a task, he’ll stop at nothing to complete it.”
Spc. Tammie Davis, the JVB protocol specialist at KAF who has been working with Villanueva for about three months, said there is never a dull moment with Villanueva.
“His heart’s always in the right place,” Davis said. “He always cares.”