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Military Ball Honors Traditions, Builds Camaraderie

Last Updated on April 16, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published April 16, 2019

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

UTEP military science cadet Jose A. Herrera stood at attention in the middle of a cavernous white tent ready to recite the Soldier's Creed at the program's annual Military Ball on April 5, 2019, at Grace Gardens Event Center. Little did the audience know that they would live out part of the creed that evening.

UTEP's military science program celebrated its annual Military Ball on April 5, 2019, at Grace Gardens Event Center. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Communications
UTEP's military science program celebrated its annual Military Ball on April 5, 2019, at Grace Gardens Event Center. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Communications

Wearing an Army service “dress blues” uniform, Herrera was familiar with the creed. The former Army special operations combat medic had spent five years in the Army. His time included a deployment to the Balkans during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. He separated from active duty as a sergeant in 2017 to enroll at The University of Texas at El Paso with the goal of earning an Army commission.

Herrera, born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and raised in Tampa, Florida, excelled in the ROTC program, which named him its 2019 Cadet of the Year because of his performance, participation and commitment. In front of 160 guests, many of them veterans, active duty, or part of UTEP’s ROTC program, he confidently started the creed, a list of admissions and values that U.S. Army personnel follow. At some point during the 121-word statement of beliefs, he hesitated.   

The audience sensed the difficulty of the situation and a murmur began to grow throughout the ballroom at 6701 Westside Drive. Classmates, instructors and guests, some of them standing, began to recite the creed in unison to live up to its promise to “never leave a fallen comrade.” That support helped Herrera regain his confidence to finish the creed loudly and clearly.

“I felt the love and support from my fellow soldiers and ROTC cadets,” said Herrera a few days later. The junior political science major with a minor in intelligence and national security studies plans to graduate in May 2020. He said he hopes the Army assigns him to a military intelligence or military police unit. “My brothers and sisters stood with me and recited the creed because they would not allow me to fail.”

The ball was the 70th in the history of the “Fighting Miners” Battalion Corps of Cadets. The Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP) chartered the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in July 1948. The first classes started two months later.

Organizers steeped the ballroom, adorned with orange and blue decorations, with traditions such as the “grog” ceremony and the use of a sword to make the first cut into the sheet cake marked with UTEP and battalion logos. Easy-listening music played as two large video screens showed a series of images of UTEP cadets at work and play. There also were two static photo displays provided by UTEP’s Heritage Commission of the cadre’s history throughout the years. Organizers said the event is an opportunity for cadre members and supporters to build camaraderie in a formal and social setting.

Among the guests was Jaime Barceleau, a former UTEP ROTC cadet who earned his bachelor’s degree in social work in 1980. The Army commissioned him as a second lieutenant the same year and assigned him to a quartermaster corps. Quartermasters are in charge of supply and logistics. He was active duty for four years and then spent the next 27 years in the Army Reserves, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

“I like this kind of stuff,” Barceleau said as he scanned the proceedings. “I enjoy the pageantry, which keeps the traditions alive for the next generation.”

Army Lt. Col. Janelle Kutter, director of personnel at Joint Task Force North on Fort Bliss, called military balls a great opportunity for cadets to immerse themselves in Army culture. Kutter learned about the ball through Lt. Col. Jason Albright, professor of military science and cadre leader. She had asked him to interview her daughter, a student at Northwest Early College High School in El Paso, who is interested in an ROTC appointment at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.

“I saw that there was going to be a ball and I wanted to participate,” said Kutter, who added that the event reminded her of when she was a junior officer who coordinated such activities. “There is so much that goes on behind the scenes, from finding the entertainment to getting the guest speaker. I appreciate it as a guest. I know all the hard work that goes into these events.” 

The evening’s keynote speaker, Army Brig. Gen. (retired) Eric L. Sanchez, former commander of White Sands Missile Range and a proud 1987 graduate of New Mexico State University’s ROTC program, thanked Albright for the invitation. The first-generation college student said his goal was to share some tips from a successful career that spanned more than 30 years and had taken him all over the world.

Sanchez shared his thoughts as guests dined on a meal of lemon picada chicken with honey-glazed baby carrots and wild rice pilaf. He peppered his comments with humor, but his advice was serious and beneficial to all in attendance.

The New Mexico native encouraged the cadets to set attainable goals and to take pride in themselves, their units, their communities and their alma maters. He counseled cadets to make time to build relationships and establish trust (“You can’t email a handshake”); learn time management; enhance verbal and written communication skills; understand the importance of eating, sleeping and exercise; find the right balance in life with extracurricular activities; and look out for their neighbors. He recommended they lead from the front, be good listeners, especially to the more experienced noncommissioned officers, be lifelong learners ready to share their knowledge, be team players and team builders, be judicious in their responses to first reports that may be inaccurate, and be ready to handle human relations. He also stressed that it was important to find the fun and humor in their work.  

Another of the evening’s highlights was the presentation of one of the unit’s original “colors” (flags) to representatives of UTEP’s Heritage House. The “retired” flag, which battalion leaders estimate to be at least 50 years old, will be part of an upcoming military science exhibit at Heritage House, 405 Kerbey Ave., a depository of University artifacts and memorabilia near the center of campus.

Albright said this year’s ball was a great sendoff to the seniors that also communicated a cultural change that aligned UTEP’s military science program with the fundamentals of the UTEP Edge, a campus philosophy that enhances a student’s inherent talents through high-impact experiences.   

“The cadets enjoyed the event,” Albright said. “It brought them closer together. Organizers set a high-water mark that will be difficult for next year’s planners to attain.”