Command Sgt. Major Daniel Santiago-Alonso, sergeant major of the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, brings a combination of his own culture, his unique path with the Army and value in hard work to his job every single day.
“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico,” Santiago-Alonso said.
He uses both last names of his parents as it is custom in his culture.
“I was raised in a little town called Guanica, it’s in the southwestern part of Puerto Rico,” he said. “I lived there until the age of 18, when I graduated high school. Then I moved to the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez for college, to study biology and science.”
Santiago-Alonso was raised to value hard work from a young age.
“We are a very family-oriented people,” he said. “My parents worked hard for everything they gave me and my brother. They had many different jobs, at one point they owned a local supermarket while I was in school. I grew up working throughout my childhood. I went with my dad to pick up supplies and products for the store. I bagged groceries and stocked. I grew up knowing I had to work hard for everything I did.”
Joining the army
Through his hard work, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in medical science biology in 1995. Santiago-Alonso had intentions of attending medical school, but realized it was not in the cards for him as he needed to help support his growing family: his wife, his 3-year-old son and a daughter on the way.
“At that point, I had never thought about joining the military,” Santiago-Alonso said. “My uncle was a recruiter. Luckily, I ran into him that summer, and he came to me and asked me what my plans were now that I was out of college. I told him what I wanted to do and how I wasn’t able to do it, and he asked if I had considered joining the Army.”
After sitting down with his uncle and looking at the opportunities to help provide for his family, Santiago-Alonso decided to enlist.
“I saw the Army as an opportunity to get a job, do something with my life, provide for my family and learn another language,” he said. “My parent language was Spanish. They sent me to the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio for four months to learn English, all I did was take classes, and then I was able to go to basic training and AIT.”
Santiago-Alonso was first stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, where he served as a combat medic for four years. While he was there, he did National Training Center rotations to Fort Irwin, California; and Kuwait, and participated in training exercises. In 1999, Santiago began missing his passion for medical science and re-enlisted as a laboratory technician.
“I attended training at Fort Sam Houston, and graduated as the distinguished honor grad with the highest average score in my class,” he said. “While in school, I found out that if you were a lab tech with a bachelor’s degree in science, you could apply for an additional skill identifier (P9 identifier) which converted my MOS from being a regular laboratory technician to a biological research specialist (68-Kilo P9 ASI).”
A satisfying job
As a biological research specialist, Santiago-Alonso was stationed at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland from 1999 until 2006. He was responsible for studying vaccines, diseases and performing research to improve Soldier medical readiness and health. In 2006, he was promoted to sergeant first class. He worked as a laboratory technician before becoming a blood bank hematology instructor at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
“I loved being an instructor. If anyone asked me what has been my most satisfying job in the Army, to this day it’s being a lab tech instructor,” Santiago-Alonso said. “I got to teach new 68-Kilos, fresh out of basic training, and I loved that. I felt like I was making an impact by teaching the new lab techs that would go on to serve the Army.”
In 2010, Santiago-Alonso was stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Kaiserslautern, Germany. While there, he was promoted to master sergeant, and worked as the noncommissioned officer in charge of all of the laboratories in the Landstuhl footprint: labs on multiple installations across Germany, as well as two labs in Italy and a lab in Belgium.
“I was lucky, because I was working but also traveling to amazing countries,” Santiago-Alonso said. “After three and a half years, I came back to the states. I was on my way to Fort Detrick, Maryland, as a first sergeant to supervise research there when I was selected to attend the sergeants major academy. It came as a surprise. After a year at Fort Detrick, I went to the academy for a year. After graduation, I went back to Fort Hood where I was the operations sergeant major for the 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion.”
After two and a half years, he was selected to become a battalion-level command sergeant major for Weed Army Community Hospital at Fort Irwin, California. Santiago-Alonso only served 16 months out of the traditional 30 months a command sergeant major typically serves at an installation, as he was selected to become a brigade command sergeant major here at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital this past July.
“I advise the commander of the hospital when it comes to enlisted matters,” Santiago-Alonso said. “I help the commander make decision by advising him and sharing my opinion. My priority is enlisted matters, but I also like to be part of the managing of the hospital as well. I am heavily involved with the safety of the hospital, access to care and the tri-annual joint commission inspection, which happens at every hospital in the United States. I feel like I need to be technically sound, but also tactically sound. I want to be involved.”
A proud heritage
Despite being so far from home, Santiago-Alonso continues to use his combined experiences and the values instilled in him by his family and heritage in his daily life. This unique background he contributes, just as other soldiers do, is something he believes adds value to the Army.
“It the United States we have the freedom of religion and freedom to express ourselves,” he said. “We cherish that, and we respect that here in the Army. In our ceremonies, we often have chaplains give invocations, and they say: “pray in your faith as I pray in mine,” so that way we respect all cultures. I think the Army, and the military as a whole, has done a great job in recognizing the people and their accomplishments regardless of their race. It’s about what you have done with your life and your career that speaks for you, not your race, background or ethnic group.”
His command sergeants major class motto was “Strength in diversity” – a tenant Santiago-Alonso believes in.
“In the Army, we all come from different paths and heritages,” he said. “The Army celebrates it, just like with Hispanic heritage month and so forth. We celebrate everyone. Why do we do that? Because we all come from different backgrounds, homes, cultures, but when we all come together, we are able to teach and grow together. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and we can learn new perspectives, new flavors, to our every day.”
By feeling comfortable in his identity as a member of the Hispanic community, both in the Army and in his home, it has made combining and appreciating both cultures a priority in raising his children, Santiago-Alonso said.
“My wife and I have educated our children in the Puerto Rican culture,” he said. “All of the food we eat is Puerto Rican, my children are fluent in Spanish and English. We speak Spanish at home. We are very proud of our heritage, that’s how we raised our children, so that they can keep up with their origins. In my opinion, parents make the mistake, if they are fluent in another language, in not teaching their children both English and the other language at home.”
As always, the mentality of hard work and striving for his best is something that stays with Santiago-Alonso.
“My parents pushed me to be the best in both school and in the sports I participated in growing up,” he said. “I grew up with the mentality to always do your best, striving to get better, to never give up and to go-go-go. Even now, my parents still push me to doing better. I feel like bringing that mentality and my value in Family has shaped me.”
By staying true to his roots, Santiago-Alonso can apply his values to the Soldiers he advises and oversees daily, as well as share his culture with others.
“The Army is a reflection of the country,” he said. “We are a melting pot, we come in different skin tones, experiences, but at the end of the day we are all human, we are all one, and I think it makes us better. I think diversity in the Army is a good thing.”