Puerto Rico Native focuses on Unselfish Leadership

U.S Marine photo by Lance Corporal Tayler P. Schwamb
U.S Marine photo by Lance Corporal Tayler P. Schwamb

Puerto Rico Native focuses on Unselfish Leadership

by: Lance Cpl. Tayler Schwamb, Marine Corps Installations Pacific | .
published: November 06, 2017

Hector Fortis grew up in the blazing, tropical sun of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Despite his love for the beautiful island, he felt the call to serve his country tugging at his soul.

Fortis had a loving childhood, filled with family gatherings, outdoor activities and dancing in the Puerto Rico sun. When Fortis was 10, his life drastically changed. His mother was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension. Fortis helped his mother every day with basic tasks such as: feeding her, changing her and bathing her. At a young age, Fortis became the man of the house, doing his best to provide for his grandmother and mother, the two women who had given him everything.

After high school Fortis decided to attend college, but realized he would not be able to financially provide for his loved ones while in school.

“I was scared of the Marine Corps, it was so tough,” said Fortis. “I first went into the office [in September of 2013] and I felt welcomed right away. The recruiter at the time was Sgt. Manzi, and he spoke to me in Spanish asking ‘hey warrior what do you want?’ I hadn’t thought about it much, but I knew providing for the women in my life was my first goal.”

Unfortunately, Fortis had an allergy to a common household medicine. Months crawled by as Fortis waited for his waiver to be submitted and approved.

May rolled around and he was still waiting for his waiver to be signed when he snapped. He felt like he was being played and it ate at him. Frustration racked his small frame as he stormed into the recruiting office and pulled his package. As he climbed in the car to go home, his mother, sensing his disappointment, turned to him,

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

Tears pricked the corners of his eyes as he sat in the heavy silence. After a long moment his mother grew impatient, smacked him upside the head and repeated, “What do you want to do? I will turn this car around right now if that is what you need.”

Silence hung in the car and finally, in a small voice, Fortis told his mother, “I want to be a Marine.”

She whipped the car around and waited outside the office. Fortis went inside the tiny office in the mall and the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the recruiting substation sat him down.

“He gave me a hard time,” recalled Fortis. “I told him [the Marine Corps] was the only branch where I belonged. I told him I needed this for me, for my family. So he told me, ‘I will give you one more shot, but if I send this up, you cannot quit ever again.’ And I didn’t. I patiently waited again for months and months and then I was finally able to swear in.”

On September 26, 2014, Fortis finally swore in to the delayed entry program. He would leave in July of 2015 for the 13 hardest weeks of his life in Parris Island, South Carolina. In March of 2016 Fortis was sent halfway across the world from his mother to Okinawa, Japan.

Now, Fortis is a corporal and an administrative specialist with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan.

Fortis pulls from his childhood and his mother’s mentoring as he leads Marines and volunteers on Okinawa.

“I would say that being raised in Puerto Rico and helping my mom made me the man that I am,” said Fortis. “It is a cultural difference, in Puerto Rico you are so respectful to other people. When I first got here I had all of these younger people who were my corporal or sergeants, but I understood their rank and I respected that. Having that respect and values that my mom taught me helped.”

The Marine Corps is founded upon the values of honor, courage and commitment. Through boot camp, Lance Corporal Seminar and other seminars, the Marine Corps stresses the importance of good leadership traits. Those traits are qualities of thought and action, which if demonstrated on a daily basis, will help leaders earn the loyalty and respect of their Marines.

According to Fortis, the most important leadership trait is unselfishness. He avoids making himself comfortable at the expense of others, and continues to take on as much as he can. Fortis dedicates his time to volunteering around the local and military community, stressing the importance to his fellow Marines.

“Small unit leadership is exactly like ‘Pay it Forward,’” asked Fortis. “Whatever you pass to your Marines [military occupation specialty] wise, proficiency wise, or even morals and ethics eventually will be passed on. Just like Marine Corps traditions like drill, it all keeps being paid forward and passed on. Just like negative things grow, positive things grow, and that is what builds the bond between leaders and followers. It is all of the little things that you do. If I could pass on anything to my Marines, it would be the importance of everything they do.”

Fortis’s close relationship with his mother fuels his compassionate attitude towards his junior Marines and the community. One lesson he makes an effort to teach is the “pointing lesson” he was taught as a child.

“When you are pointing and judging someone you have one finger pointed at them but you have three pointed at you,” said Fortis. “You need to look at yourself three times before you blame another.”

As Fortis continues his career in the Marine Corps and as an administrative specialist he harps on giving 100 percent every day. Some Marines become complacent when they are behind a desk, but Fortis wants to ensure his Marines never catch that mentality.

“He is my go to guy for everything,” said Sgt. Christian Mena, the incentive NCO for H&S Bn., MCIPAC-MCB. “He makes the best out of everything. He knows how to be happy even with just a little. You can see it every single day, he always keeps the morale up for everyone else.”

Even with all his hard work, Fortis continues to credit his mother with all his success.

“If I could say anything to my mom I would say, ‘Mami, lo logre. Te amo mucho.’ (I made it. I love you),” said Fortis. “I’d just remind her that everything I do is because of her.”

Photo Caption:
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan – Cpl. Hector Fortis poses for a photo Nov. 2 aboard Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan. Fortis is a Bayamon, Puerto Rico, native, who joined the Marine Corps to help support his ailing mother. Fortis’s dedication to small unit leadership is well-known as he works long hours refining his Marine’s skills. Fortis is an administrative specialist with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan.