GABRESKI AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Westhampton Beach N.Y.– New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing welcomed the Borinqueneers to the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach, here, October 15, 2017.
The Borinqueneers, the U.S. Army 65th Infantry Regiment composed of soldiers from Puerto Rico, were celebrated for their service during both World Wars and the Korean War.
“I think it’s important to recognize what the Borinqueneers did for us,” said Senior MSgt. Lindsay Cunningham, the 106th human resource advisor. “Not only did they have to deal with the war, but they had to deal with racism of the time.”
The Borinqueneers, like the Tuskegee Airmen, were a segregated division of the Army and distinguished themselves in battle, enduring both the hardships of racial discrimination and war.
“They were called the rice and beans battalion by their white counterparts,” Cunningham said. “They fought for a country, that at the time, wasn’t very nice toward them.”
The Borinqueers surged past the discrimination and their selfless actions in the face of racial animosity were recognized April 13, 2016, when President Barack Obama and Congress presented them with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Congressional Gold Medal is considered one of the Borinqueneers’ highest honors in a long list that includes 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Stars, 606 Bronze Stars, and 2,771 Purple Hearts among the regiment, according to Cunningham.
Airmen filled the wing auditorium to celebrate and pay tribute to the Borinqueers, and watched as each was presented with a wing coin by Lt. Col. Paul A. Salas, of the 106th Inspector General Complaints office.
“It was great seeing our base recognize them,” said Senior Airman Tatiana J. Garcia, a 106th personnel specialist. “These guys are heroes and it was an honor having the chance to meet them.”
In addition to paying tribute to the Borinqueneers, the 106th’s second annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration featured traditional songs and dance, and a video highlighting the sacrifices of the Borinqueneers.
Master Sgt. Andres M. Velasquez, 106th security forces training manager, and Staff Sgt. Wendy Crow, 106th aerospace medical technician, who kicked off the event by dancing Cumbia, a traditional musical genre from Latin America, both feel the observance of Hispanic culture is vital.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is important to us because it gives us a sense of pride,” said Velasquez and Crow. “It also gives us the ability to help educate our peers on the different cultures that we have within one.”
Although at times it was very emotional, the celebration ended with smiling faces and more dancing.
When 106th Wing Commander Col. Michael W. Bank was approached with the idea two years ago, he was all for it, said Cunningham. The base is around 25 percent Hispanic, so for us this is huge and it’s great to have so much support from our fellow wingmen.