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Hispanic Americans in Military Medicine

In 1988, National Hispanic Heritage Month was established between Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to shine a spotlight on the remarkable contributions Hispanic Americans have woven into the fabric of U.S. history.

The Military Health System honors Hispanic medical professionals whose service, dedication, and perseverance advanced the medical field and improved the delivery of health care to our service members, veterans, and their families.

Celebrating Hispanic Americans in Military Medicine

An interactive timeline of Hispanic Americans, Latinos, Latinas, and Latinx trailblazers and those they've inspired who are making history in their own time.

1918 Dolores Piñero

HHM2023 Dolores Pinero

Dr. Dolores Piñero was one of the first Puerto Rican women to earn a medical degree in the U.S. and the first Puerto Rican women to serve as an Army contract surgeon during WWI. Prior to her service, Piñero’s initial application to the U.S. Army was denied due to her gender; however, after appealing to the Surgeon General of the Army, placing emphasis on her specialty in anesthesiology, Piñero was accepted and assigned to Camp Las Casas in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1918. She was reassigned to the Army General Hospital of Fort Brooke in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she helped open and manage a 400-bed hospital to combat the influenza pandemic

1939 Maria Esperanza Garcia Roach

HHM2023 Maria Esperanza Garcia Roach headshot

Maria G. Roach served as a flight nurse during WWII with the Army Nurse Corps and received an Air Medal and two Bronze Stars for her actions. Born in Mexico to American parents, Roach grew up in Austin, Texas, where she attended the University of Texas at Austin prior to training as a nurse anesthetist at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana. With the onset of WWII, Roach joined the 24th General Hospital at Tulane University and later trained at the School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field, Kentucky. Once graduated, Roach served as both a pilot and nurse in Africa, India, Italy, and Brazil, completing medical air evacuations. Roach was discharged in 1945 and became a foreign service staff officer in the U.S. foreign service in 1946.

1939 Hector Garcia

Hector Garcia headshot

Dr. Héctor P. García was a Mexican-born, American physician, surgeon, veteran, and a civil rights advocate, as well as the first Mexican American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Born in Mexico in 1914, García grew up in Mercedes, Texas, where he earned an undergraduate and medical degree from the University of Texas. In 1939, García joined the Army, serving in the 307th Infantry Medical Corps, earning a Bronze Star Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. After World War II, García established a medical practice in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he provided affordable health care to vulnerable and underserved communities. In 1948, García founded the American G.I. Forum, a group aimed at addressing discrimination and inequities faced by Hispanic veterans. Today, the forum has chapters in 40 states and in Puerto Rico.

1944 Anthony Acevedo

HHM2023 Anthony Acevedo headshot

Anthony “Tony” Acevedo was the first Mexican American registered on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors. Born in San Bernardino, California 1924, Acevedo joined the Army as a medic at 19 years old and was sent to Europe in the fall of 1944 as a corporal. Acevedo joined Company B of the 275th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Division, where he fought in Belgium and France during the Battle of the Bulge. There, Acevedo was captured by German troops and held as a prisoner of war in the Berga slave labor camp, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp. During the months he was a Berga POW, Acevedo kept a secret diary recording his experiences and the deaths of his fellow American soldiers. After the war, Acevedo’s diary became an important record that cataloged the brutalities committed by the Nazis.

1944 Carmen Maria Vasquez Rivera

HHM2023 Carmen Maria Vasquez-Rivera headshot

Carmen Maria Vazquez Rivera was a Puerto Rican World War II and Korean War Veteran. Rivera served in the Army as head nurse of the Orthopedic Department at San Juan’s Fort Brooke. There, she earned the American Theater Campaign Medal, the Word War II Victory Medal, as well as three Overseas Service Bars, along with a signed letter from President Truman for her service. In 1953, she re-enlisted as a nurse during the Korean War with the Air Force. After serving in the armed forces for more than 20 years, she retired in 1973. In 2022, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Latino membership organization in the U.S., presented Rivera with its Presidential Medal of Freedom for paving the way for Puerto Rican women in the armed services.

1944 Carmen Lozando Dumler

HHM2023 Carmen Maria Lozando Dumler headshot

Carmen Lozando Dumler was the first Puerto Rican woman sworn into the Army Nurse Corps. A born and raised Puerto Rico native, Dumler earned her nursing degree at the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing. Shortly thereafter, Dumler, along with 13 other nurses, were recruited in 1944 to care for the growing number of soldiers at military hospitals in San Juan and the Caribbean. Her first assignment was at the Rodriguez General Hospital at Fort Brooke, Puerto Rico, where she worked until she was reassigned in 1945 to the 359th Station Hospital of Fort Reed in Trinidad and Tobago. There, Lozano treated soldiers who had returned from Normandy, France. Dumler went on to spend 20 years working as a nurse and eventually specialized in substance-abuse counseling.

1958 Carmelita Vigil Schimmenti

HHM2023 Camelita Vigil Schimmenti headshot

Carmelita Vigil Schimmenti was the first Hispanic woman to reach the rank of brigadier general. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Schimmenti earned her nursing diploma from the Regina School of Nursing and joined the Air Force in 1958. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Schimmenti was assigned to various Air Force bases and medical centers—including the Asia-Pacific region during the Vietnam War—assuming increasingly senior roles with each step. In October 1985, Schimmenti became the first Hispanic woman to reach the rank of brigadier general. There, she assumed the duties of chief of the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps, Office of the Surgeon General, based in Washington, D.C.

1963 Alfred V. Rascon

HHM2023 Alfred Rascon head shot

Alfred V. Rascon was a three-time veteran, renowned for his distinguished service in the Vietnam War. Rascon joined the Army as a teenager in 1963, where he was assigned as a medic to the Headquarters Company, Medical Platoon, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, in Okinawa, Japan. At the outbreak of the Vietnam War, his brigade became the first to go into Vietnam to destroy enemy base camps and to introduce the use of long-range reconnaissance patrols, or LRRPs. In 1966, Rascon was reassigned to the Reconnaissance Platoon of the 173rd Airborne to help reinforce another battalion under enemy fire near Vietnam’s Long Khanh province. There, Rascon risked his life to save wounded comrades, braving bullets and exploding grenades to drag soldiers to safety. At times, Rascon covered his fellow soldiers’ bodies with his own to absorb grenade blasts. Rascon was so severely wounded that he was not expected to survive. Rascon's incredible valor earned him the Medal of Honor by former President Bill Clinton in February 2000.

1978 Lester Martínez-López

HHM2023 Lester Martinez-Lopez headshot

Dr. Lester Martinez-López was the first Latino to head the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and is the current assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Dr. Martinez earned his medical degree at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, as well as a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Martínez joined the Army in 1978, where he served in a variety of positions including commander of three distinct hospitals. He also oversaw the military health support during Hurricane Mitch in Central America and served as the chief medical officer of the United Nation’s Mission in Haiti. After retiring from the Army as a Major General, Dr. Martinez became chief medical officer at the Brandon Regional Hospital in Florida and then senior vice president and administrator of the Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital in Houston, Texas. Dr. Martinez was sworn in as the new assistant secretary of defense for health affairs at the Pentagon in 2023.

1990 Christina M. Alvarado

HHM2023 Christina Alvarado headshot

Christina M. Alvarado was the first nurse to command the Navy Expeditionary Medical Facility Dallas One in Fort Worth, Texas. Alvarado became certified in critical care nursing in 1983 and worked as a critical care nurse and in health policy before joining the U.S. Navy Reserves. She was a direct commissioned officer and attended school at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, until 1990, when she was called to support Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Alvarado was later deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 for Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. In 2015, after Alvarado took command of Navy Expeditionary Medical Facility Dallas One, she was confirmed as a rear admiral. Alvarado held a variety of leadership positions until her retirement, including deputy chief for reserve policy and integration for the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

1993 Sandra Nestor

HHM2023 Sandra Nestor running in uniform

Col. Sandra R. Nestor is the commander of the 509th Medical Group at Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri. She manages the operations and supports a budget of $13 million supporting wartime readiness at the Air Force’s only B-2 Bomb Wing. Nestor also oversees the health services for more than 4,800 active duty personnel at the base. Nestor earned her nursing degree from the Pacific Lutheran University at Tacoma, Washington, in 1993. Soon after, she commissioned as a ROTC officer and spent more than seven years in the Army Nurse Corps. After a five-year break, Nestor commissioned into the Air Force in 2005, where she went on to serve in a variety of roles, including clinical nurse, nurse manager, flight commander, nurse utilization officer, and chief.

1997 Edgar G. Arroyo

HHM2023 Edgar Arroyo

Edgar G. Arroyo was the first medical company commander to cross the berm from Kuwait into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He was also the first Hispanic person to command both the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and the Irwin Army Community Hospital in Fort Riley, Kansas. As a hospital commander, he transitioned the hospital to an electronic health record system; gained accreditation of the hospital by the Joint Commission; stood up the Kansas Small Market for the Defense Health Agency; executed the first soldier-only hospital field training exercise; and launching the first delayed evacuation medical course, while managing through the COVID-19 pandemic. Arroyo comes from a Gold Star Family. His older brother, Domingo Arroyo Jr., was the first soldier killed in 1993 during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Today, Col. Edgar G. Arroyo is Chief of Staff, Medical Readiness, Command, Pacific.

2004 Jennifer Peña

HHM2023 Jennifer Pena headshot

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Dr. Jennifer Peña received her Bachelor of Science degree in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and Spanish language and literature from Yale University. She commissioned into the Army in 2004 and entered active duty in 2008, after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She completed an internal medicine residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and served a tour of duty at the White House Medical Unit under both the Obama and Trump administrations from 2014 to 2018. Peña served as the officer in charge of White House Medical Unit’s largest clinic and as senior physician at Camp David.

2006 Marie Urso

HHM2023 Marie Urso work photo

After earning her doctorate in kinesiology from the University of Massachusetts, Marie Urso commissioned into the Army, serving four years as a captain. Urso won the highest honor given by the U.S. government for her research at the Army's Research Institute of Environmental Medicine on musculoskeletal injury and repair. She specialized in new therapies that might be used to treat blunt-force trauma and blast injuries. Urso also received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor the U.S. government given to outstanding, early career professionals. In addition to her contributions to science and the armed services, Urso competed to help her team win a silver medal in the Armed Forces Marathon Championship at the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

2008 Rafael Colon Hernandez

HHM2023 Rafael Colon Hernandez headshot

Rafael Colon Hernandez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and joined the Army Reserve as a medic at the age of 18. Colon Hernandez went on to serve in four combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and one humanitarian deployment to support relief efforts in the Caribbean after Hurricane Maria. As a medic, he saw gruesome injuries and trauma that led to Colon Hernandez being diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Colon Hernandez’ experience in pushing past mental stigma to receive care led to his work today, serving as a command sergeant major and senior enlisted advisor of Public Health Command Atlantic at Fort Meade, Maryland, where he serves as a mentor and advocates behavioral and mental health resources to troops.

2010 Jonathan Gomez-Rivera

HHM2023 Jonathan Gomez Rivera

Jonathan Gomez-Rivera joined the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps in 2010. There, Gomez-Rivera worked at various health and clinics, executing facility maintenance budgets worth millions, managing health-related structures such as replacing a hospital’s roof, and leading dozens of personnel in various administrative positions. For his contributions as builder liaison for health facilities, Gomez-Rivera received the Navy Medicine's 2020 Health Facility Planning and Project Officer of the Year award. The award recognized Gomez-Rivera’s leadership in several projects, such as the space reutilization at Naval Medical Forces Support Command headquarters, where he planned, developed, and led the award of over $10 million in regional projects.

2012 Daniel Suarez

HHM2023 Daniel Suarez headshot

Daniel Suarez joined the Navy Reserve as a hospital corpsman in 2012. He has completed two overseas tours and special tours at various commands, including at the 2017 presidential inauguration. For his exemplary service, Suarez garnered six Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Humanitarian Service Medals, and a host of other awards and accolades. In March 2021, Suarez became the deputy inspector general of Defense Health Agency, where he served a three-year term. Today, Suarez serves as liaison officer for DHA in U.S. Africa Command. Suarez also serves on the board of directors for the Modern Military Association of America, advocating for equality and fair treatment of LGBTQ+ veterans, service members, and their families.

2016 Jennifer Soliz

Armed with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and a doctorate in chemistry, Dr. Jennifer Soliz was awarded the National Research Council Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship and promoted to a Research Chemist with the U.S. Army DEVCOM CBC in 2016. In the fall of 2021, she was one of three scientists from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center who participated in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency “Scientist to Sea” program, which provides scientists with insights to support Sailors and their missions. Today, Dr. Soliz leads a team of scientists at the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, Chemical Biological Center, developing materials to save soldiers from toxic chemical threats on the battlefield. Dr. Soliz' latest discovery, on which she holds the patent, detects hazardous chemical threats by changing color in their presence.

2017 Frank Rubio

HHM2023-FrankRubio

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Frank Rubio was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He reported for duty in August 2017. He arrived at the International Space Station on Sept. 21, 2022, and will return home on Sept. 27 after 371 days in space, the longest single duration spaceflight for an American astronaut. The Florida native graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1998 and earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in 2010. Before attending medical school, he served as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot and logged over 1,100 hours, including over 600 hours of combat and imminent danger time during deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Dr. Rubio is a board-certified family physician and flight surgeon. At the time of his selection for the astronaut program, Rubio was serving in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Last Updated: October 30, 2023
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