SFC Juan Santiago - US Army (Retired) - Viera, FL
“Never Stop Serving” is Juans’ motto! About to celebrate his 80th birthday, in 2018 Juan made at least six trips to Ft. Benning, GA or Ft. Jackson, SC (at his own expense) to celebrate the Basic Combat Training graduations with new, young soldiers from Florida whom he helped to recruit. He has been doing that same thing for 14 years. Sometimes, if their families cannot attend, he and his wife are the only ones there for the soldiers. His support of young recruits is well known throughout Brevard County.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Juan started his career of service in 1958. At the age of 19, he enlisted in the US Army at Ft. Buchanan, PR, where he immediately entered an intense 8 week pre-basic training program aimed at improving English language skills and building military discipline in order to be better prepared to successfully complete basic combat training at Ft. Jackson, SC. In the early 1960’s he participated in the “exercise” on the island 90 miles south of Key West. Not long after that, he made several “visits” to Vietnam and returned there in 1965 to serve 5 consecutive tours, spending the first 2 years as an Infantry Forward Observer and a Heavy Weapons Platoon NCO and the last 2 years as a Huey Door-Gunner/Crew Chief, and U-21 Crew Chief.
Returning to the States, he led the way as part of the beginning of the Army’s Formal Race Relations and Equal Opportunity (RR/EO) Program. He served in the active duty US Army for over 22 years. Newly retired, Juan followed his wife [now LTC, QM (Ret.) USA] to assignments in Germany and Italy. While there, he received numerous commendations when working as a GS Recreation Specialist (RS) and was promoted by one grade in recognition of his swift action in saving the life of an Air Force Major General, who suffered a heart attack while working out in his HQ, US Army, Europe gym. Back in the States, working as a RS at the Perry Point VA Hospital, he was commended several times and received a Special Contribution Award for responding to an explosion and fire in Perryville. A promising pitcher in his youth, and life member of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, he finally “won” his 1997 World Series Ring working in the Florida Marlins’ minor league operation, and was also chosen the Marlins’ Minor League Complex Employee of the Year 1998. When not working, he could be found “cruising the stands” talking to veterans at the Brevard County Stadium during Marlins’ Spring Training and minor league season games. Being fluent in Spanish and English, with conversational skills in Vietnamese, Italian and Portuguese helped a lot! True to his roots, Juan continues to support the RR/EO program, participating in the DEOMI graduations at its Patrick Air Force Base location and mentoring DEOMI students and staff. He continues to support the RR/EO ideals daily by his actions in all that he does. In his 14 years as a USAREC COI/VIP, he has worked closely with Army Recruiters from Brevard and Osceola Counties, and interfaced with many local businesses, schools and families at a variety of functions, e.g. assemblies, career days, awards ceremonies, graduations, and even a Cross Country (track) Conference. He has participated in events with students and their families from all of Brevard County’s 16 major high schools.
Juan has spent some 1,500 hours in high school classrooms and at after school events—often at multiple schools the same week. He has mentored thousands of students and even their family members, speaking about life goals, good citizenship and service, and embodying the Army Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless- Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. He has even been known to engage young people in such discussions wherever he finds them, i.e. fast food, grocery and retail stores, malls, park benches and has taken to the airwaves to tell his story on a local Spanish language FM radio station. Unfortunately, there is not enough space to include the numerous thank you messages from students and the testimonials of classroom teachers praising his efforts and marveling at his rapport with students. He has also spent over 200 hours supporting inter/intra-high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) competitions, e.g. judging drill teams at the Brevard County Sheriff-sponsored Space Coast Conference Championship and coaching/cheering on USAREC Future Soldiers at physical fitness and leadership reaction challenge events. Ilis efforts as a COI/VIP in all of the above have been praised repeatedly by four consecutive USAREC Tampa Battalion Commanders. Juan’s service is not limited to the young. For over 20 years he has “adopted” the widow (now 98 years old) of an Army veteran friend, who had no close relatives. He calls her twice a day, visits most days, runs errands and takes her to all her appointments.
THE BOTTON LINE is that Juan is the epitome of a “Soldier for Life” continuing to serve military, veterans and civilians alike. He is a combination communications/military expert and Energizer Bunny. SFC (Ret.) Juan Santiago-Seda exhibits the highest qualities ever expected of a US Army NCO and is truly deserving to be in the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame!
Advocacy on Behalf of Veterans:
Co-founded the annual 3-day reunion of 2nd Infantry Regiment “Ramrods” veterans (2006). It was so successful that he expanded it to 4-days and planned/orchestrated the next seven reunions. The reunions are still being held, and have allowed hundreds of Ramrods (WWII thru Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan) to reestablish/strengthen their bonds of brotherhood. Since 2006, he has organized, equipped and participated as a member of Veterans’ Color Guards at numerous Brevard County ceremonies including many annual visits of the traveling “Vietnam Wall” and “Massing Of Colors” events at Eastern Florida State College, and the Vietnam and Other Veterans Reunions in Melbourne. That reunion has been publicized as the largest such gathering of veterans in America. Since 2010, he has organized, equipped and performed as a member of many US Army Color Guards in support of ceremonies honoring veterans in Brevard and Indian River Counties, to include presentation of the Presidential Gold Medal to veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment, Veterans’ Day Observances at Eastern Florida State College, belated presentation of military awards to a Vietnam veteran, and the return to Florida of the remains of a Vietnam veteran who died out of state. He has served as guest speaker at Veterans’ Day celebrations as far away as Apopka. He was a founding member of the Spanish-American Veteran’s Association (SAVA) of Brevard. He is a life member of: American Legion, Army Aviation Association of America, Combat Infantryman’s Association, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, National Infantry Association, Second (Indianhead) Division Association, Society of the 1st Infantry Division, Society of the 5th Division, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard, and 2nd Infantry Regiment Association. Has served for several years as Treasurer and Quartermaster of the Military Society of the Blue Badge, a Combat Infantryman veterans’group
based in Brevard County at Indian River Colony Club (Viera), where 80% of the 770 home owners are veterans.
Center of Influence (COI/VIP) Volunteer in US Army Recruiting Command’s (USAREC) formal Community Outreach Program since 2004. Participates in Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce sponsored events and its Veterans’ Resource Committee. Interfaces with government officials and business leaders on military-related issues, e.g. the Viera Company to coordinate US Army representation/involvement in such events as the annual “Light Up Viera” Holiday Parades.
- Combat Infantryman Badge (1)
- Purple Heart (2)
- Air Medal (7)
- Vietnam Service Medal (6 Campaigns)
- 2008 – Order of St. Maurice—Centurion [National Infantry Association]
- 2010 – Distinguished Member of the Second US Army Infantry Regiment [Secretary of the Army]
- 2014 – Jefferson Awards For Public Service (Local)—Certificate of Excellence for Community Service and “Students in Action” Recognition of Outstanding Leadership in Volunteerism [Jaqueline Kennedy Onasis/US Senator Robert Taft Jr/Sam Beard Co Founders]
- 2017 – Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition [US Representative Bill Posey]
- 2017 – St. Michael Trophy [Mil. Soc. of the Blue Badge]
- 2022 – Honorable Order of St. Michael – Bronze Award [Army Aviation Association of America]