HARTFORD, Conn. –
For many, joining the Army is a dream, a goal, something to strive for. For Connecticut Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Mario Soriano, enabling others to do this, is his.
Soriano, originally from Madriz, Nicaragua, came to the United States in 2008, following in the footsteps of his mother who came to the country in 2006. A few years later, he joined the Connecticut Army National Guard on July 29, 2013. He, like many others before him, joined to obtain his citizenship, to further his education and to obtain, in his words, “a sense of purpose and direction.”
His first job as a soldier would be as an indirect fire infantryman, also known as a mortarman. Mortarmen have the most powerful and long ranged weapon of an infantry unit, and in Soriano’s case, it was a 120mm mortar.
The 120mm mortar, and other mortar systems, are indirect fire weapon systems. They support maneuver elements of the infantry by destroying point or area targets using high explosive shells or by providing concealment to the infantry by using smoke shells. Additionally, mortars can also light up the battlefield at night with illumination rounds, giving the soldier on the ground a bright and clear picture of the battlespace around them, and any enemy presence that might have been protected by the cover of darkness.
“In the Mortar section, I started from the bottom, I worked as the ammunition prep, assistant gunner and my last role was gunner,” explained Soriano. “The good thing about being part of the biggest mortar system is that we need vehicles to move it around, it makes a huge difference considering it is a 319lb system with 30 to 45lb mortar rounds.”
Soriano’s favorite part of being a mortarman though wasn’t the thrill and excitement derived from witnessing the destructive capability of the weapon system, it was the incredible views he would be able to witness traveling around and living in the field as he conducted live fire training. His most memorable experience would be found up at Fort Drum, NY, home of the 10th Mountain Division.
“My favorite experience was waking up early in the morning and watching the sunrise after a night of live fire,” said Soriano. “My friends and I were exhausted but the view was unreal.”
In 2014, Soriano was approached by Connecticut Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Coya, the recruiter who helped Soriano join the CT Guard a year prior, to work full time as a National Guardsman by coming on Active Duty Operational Support, or ADOS, orders. Soriano would support the 6th Recruiting and Retention Battalion, the unit responsible for recruiting and preparing Connecticut’s finest to become soldiers, by aiding recruiters to achieve their mission. Here, Soriano would work full time for recruiting while still fulfilling his obligation as a mortarman with the 102nd Infantry Regiment, one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. He would participate in a couple of events run by the battalion, such as representing the Connecticut Army National Guard by marching in public events as part of the color guard, talking to high school students about the benefits of the National Guard and talking to college students at fairs. There he would witness the direct impact recruiters had on those wishing to serve.
“I did support multiple recruiting events,” said Soriano. "That gave me an idea of how the job had a direct impact in the community.”
Motivated to give back and support his community, Soriano began his journey to become a recruiter. His sense of direction was now found, and his purpose was to help others in the way that the Army helped him. He would be hired as a recruiter in December 2017 and attended recruiting school in January 2018. Soriano went on to graduate a little over a month later and hit the streets not long after that.
Now, instead of just supporting the battalion as an assistant, Soriano as a full-fledged recruiter would have a mission to make. He would have to recruit a certain number of applicants per year as part of the recruiting battalion’s goal of ensuring that the Connecticut Army National Guard has enough new soldiers coming in per year to maintain unit readiness and overall strength.
“You have to start from scratch and build from the bottom”, said Soriano, talking about how he had to make a presence for himself as a new recruiter in his community. “It was challenging.”
That wasn’t the only challenge Soriano would face. Recruiters commonly encounter applicants who, despite their best wishes to serve, are not qualified to serve or end up becoming disqualified from service while they are transitioning to shipping to basic training and becoming a soldier.
“The hardest part of the job is not being able to enlist somebody that desires with all their heart to serve,” explained Soriano. “Unfortunately, for either medical reasons or mistakes done in the past, some applicants are permanently disqualified for military service”.
Despite these challenges, the rewards are worth all the trouble to Soriano.
“I know I’ve impacted many people through the four years that I’ve been working as a recruiter, I help people applying to college, applying for full-time jobs and getting hired in the National Guard,” explained Soriano. “The feeling is rewarding, to give this opportunity to someone that probably didn’t know, or had no idea what they wanted to do in the future, by joining the National Guard, they gain a sense of purpose and direction in life.”