Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Juan Antonio Torres Rodriguez

By DLA Public Affairs

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Editor’s Note: The Defense Logistics Agency recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 though Oct. 15. In honor of Hispanics’ contributions to the agency’s global mission, DLA is highlighting Hispanic Americans who work daily to provide logistics support to America’s warfighters and other federal customers.

My name is:  Juan Antonio Torres Rodriguez (aka Juan Torres)

I am: the emergency management and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive preparedness programs manager for DLA.

Describe your job in a sentence:  My job is to assure protection of DLA employees and their missions against all hazards.

How long have you worked for DLA?  I have worked for DLA as a civil servant since October 2002. I was also assigned to DLA as the military radiation protection officer from June 1999 until July 2002.  Altogether, I have been with the agency for 21 years.

What is your favorite thing about working for DLA?  There is never a dull moment working for the agency. DLA is in a constant state of flux, meaning there is always something new happening that keeps you engaged in your job and helps expand your professional experience. It is amazing to me how the agency morphs to accomplish the many missions that are assigned to it. From supporting warfighters and supporting FEMA and the hurricane affected areas to supporting firefighters and victims, plus all the other humanitarian missions that constantly pop up, DLA does it all and in an outstanding manner.

What are your best memories of working here?  The people I have had the honor and pleasure to work with over the years. I know a lot of folks in the agency, the benefit of a long tenure, and have become friends with many of them. Early on, one of those friends motivated me to learn to ride motorcycles. As a risk averse person, I never thought about doing such a thing. His encouragement helped me overcome my aversion, and taking the riding lessons and getting my license has been a wonderful new experience. He retired years ago, but we still get together periodically and share riding stories. Also, I always remember the impact the agency had in assisting the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The humanity the people of this organization display by rapidly, effectively and efficiently responding to the calls for assistance after major disasters is a memorable thing to me. I have many great memories from DLA.

How do you make a difference? I make a difference every day by staying focused on my job and always giving my best effort to every task. I don’t cut corners and constantly look for ways to better serve my organization, DoD and the nation. Sometimes it is spending the extra time to complete a project or taking the liberty of providing feedback on someone else’s work to ensure their best product. Other times it is challenging assumptions or doing analysis to ensure the team is considering every aspect of the task. I truly believe in the concept of servant leadership and strive to improve the lives of the people I serve on a daily basis.

What is one thing you’d like others to know about your heritage? Only one thing – that’s a tough one!  Hispanic Americans and Hispanics in general are proud, hard working individuals with strong, ethical values and beliefs. We share a common bond through the Spanish language in its many dialects, but above all is the love of family and appreciation for friendship. As an American citizen born in Puerto Rico, it always amazes me when I find someone who doesn’t know the island is a territory of the United States. People from the island have been American citizens for over a hundred years, starting on March 2, 1917, and have honorably served in the U.S. military since July 1917.

The English and Spanish languages are taught on island schools from first grade to college, and yes, many of us speak with a “funny” accent. All Puerto Ricans will tell you we are proud to be Americans and we are also proud of our island origin. Also, the people from Puerto Rico love salsa music and dancing. It is our way to express happiness and celebrate. Even during great hardships, Puerto Ricans turn to salsa to help them through the rough patches.

Why is it important to you that we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? Our nation is composed of a melting pot of racial and ethnic groups from all over. When counted together, Hispanic Americans are the largest ethnic group in the United States or about 15.3 % according to the 2019 Census Bureau. Countless Hispanic Americans distinguish themselves in all aspects of living including science, arts, medicine, military, politics and more. Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to illustrate, share and in some cases open minds about the absolute value Hispanic Americans and diversity in general bring to our nation. 

On a personal note, I never forget that as a young Army Lieutenant assigned to a base in the mid-west, I entered a civilian establishment dressed in civilian clothes and was ready to spend a considerable sum of money.  Once I was able to get the attention of the store owner to ask for assistance, he turned to me and said, “We don’t serve your kind here – you need to go.” I took my business somewhere else without saying another word. Fortunately, I have not encountered the same situation again and believe that activities like the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration play a key role in educating people about the value of diversity.