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New Language and Customs

When they join the armed forces, Puerto Rican women must learn to adapt to both the military culture and the language and customs of the US mainland–often a difficult adjustment. Army Reserve SFC Ana M. Mackino of Cidra, PR, wrote “My most memorable military experience is, without a doubt, the day I left home for the Women’s Army Corps Training Center at Fort McClellan, Alabama [on] April 22, 1964. A Spanish speaking 19-year old, I left home for the first time to join a group of about 40 other young girls from all parts of the United States, with different accents and customs. It took me about 20 hours to travel from the Air Force base in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, to Fort McClellan, Alabama.

I will never forget that as the bus driver got to the gate, he stopped the bus and said to all of us recruits, ‘This is your last chance to turn around and go back home; once we go through that gate there is no turning back.’ No one got off the bus. When we went into the barracks, upstairs to the open bay, at the top of the stairs we heard a loud-mouth platoon sergeant shout at the top of her lungs, ‘Take your shoes off, you do not walk on this floor with shoes on.’ It was difficult at first because of the language, but I knew right there and then that this was the first day of the beginning of my life.”18

Retired Army dietitian COL Merjoery Lott also remembers her transition from island life to Army life. She said, “In 1962, I was a young 21-year old student in the Army Dietetic Internship Program at Brook Army Medical Center, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Two months into the program, the armed forces were placed on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This situation was strained by the fact that I had recently left my country of Puerto Rico, and was adjusting to a different culture and language.” A resident of Manati, PR, COL Lott said, “In 1966-68, during the troop build-up and heavy fighting in Vietnam, I was assigned as Chief of the Production and Service Branch, Food Service Division at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii. The hospital was taking in large numbers of casualties from Vietnam for stabilization and subsequent return to CONUS [the continental United States]. The hospital patient capacity was extraordinarily strained, resulting in ward overflow, and having to bed the overflow in hallways. Patient feeding became a challenge and long work hours ensued.” COL Lott persevered in her military career during an era when the armed forces suffered in popularity and she remained in the Army for 26 years.19

18 Women’s Memorial Register, Ana M. Mackino, Registration # 486862.

19 Women’s Memorial Register, Merjoery Lott, Registration # 582182.