A platoon sergeant patch was clinging onto Cadet Christian Lopez’s uniform while he was out at the grenade course during Cadet Summer Training. 

Lopez practiced throwing grenades with everyone in his platoon, but he also had the leadership role of platoon sergeant that day. He had the weight of not only getting a GO on the lane – he was also being evaluated as a leader in that moment.

Cadet Christian Lopez, University of Puerto Rico, ducks behind the barrier after throwing a grenade. Cadets threw practice grenades and learned the fundamentals of how to aim at their targets.

Cadets are selected at random to take on leadership roles to include platoon sergeant, platoon leader, and squad leader at Advanced Camp with the roles changing daily.

Lopez found that wearing a platoon sergeant patch felt all too familiar – just in a different uniform years ago. 

The University of Puerto Rico Cadet enlisted in the Marines back in 2012 as a 6322 – Aircraft Avionic Technician. For five years, Lopez served in the Marines and made it up to the rank of sergeant, and along with his promotions came deployments. During his first deployment, he traveled to the Philippines, Hawaii, Thailand, Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Jordan – making his first time away from the comfort of Puerto Rico not much easier.

After multiple deployments under his belt, Lopez returned to the University of Puerto Rico to pursue two degrees in electrical engineering – artificial intelligence and programming along with computer programming. One day he was walking around campus and noticed some Cadets in uniform conducting a training exercise and was instantly curious.

Lopez connected with a fellow University of Puerto Rico ROTC Cadet to learn more information about the program and eventually found himself in an Army uniform. Along with his deployment patch, he transferred his leadership and experience over in order to help him at Advanced Camp. 

Cadets of 9th Regiment, Advanced Camp, practiced the fundamentals of throwing grenades at targets. Cadets also learned about different types of grenades, their impacts, and the safety of throwing a grenade. | Photo by 2nd Lt. Courtney Huhta, CST Public Affairs Office

“Since I was a little kid, I felt that I was meant to do something different,” said Lopez. “And if I was able to do that, the best way was going through the military.”

Despite his leadership role ending in less than 24 hours, he is committed to being a team player, even when he is not in leadership.

“If I’m a joe, I’m a squad leader, or the PSG/PL (platoon sergeant/platoon leader), I will always give my best,” Lopez said to his platoon on their first day together. “If I see something that you guys can in the moment fix to be better and get a better bluecard, I am going to be paying attention to those things. Because my job here as a future leader and as a prior NCO (non-commissioned officer), is taking care of you guys.” 

Being 30 years old, serving in a former branch, and having English as his second language did not stop Lopez from pursuing his goal of becoming an engineer as a civilian and future officer. He still holds the same standards as the rest of the Cadets attending Cadet Summer Training. 

“You’re becoming a leader and you’re learning new skills,” said Lopez. “I feel like being an officer you have more of a better understanding on what’s going on around you. You can help other people in a better way.”

About the Author: Courtney Huhta
Courtney Huhta