JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
As she sat in her office reminiscing about her life journey to becoming a U.S. Army Soldier, Master Sgt. Kathryan Torres, U.S. Army South lead sexual assault response coordinator, shed a tear thinking about the recent passing of her father.
“My dad was the most inspirational person for me even though we didn’t always see eye to eye,” Torres said emotionally. “He came to California from Puerto Rico as a young man, barely able to speak English, to pursue his dreams.”
Her father’s adventuristic nature rubbed off on Torres who is the middle child of three sisters.
From Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Torres was interested in sports and being outdoors while her sisters were more concerned with making friends and going out.
“I just wanted to be outside, climbing trees, playing sports and getting dirty,” she said with a childish grin.
Between her father’s wanderlust and her mother’s stability, Torres had great yet opposite role models even though her parents divorced at a young age.
Her mother raised her and her sisters as a single parent and worked nights at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station while her daughters slept and as her mother slept during the day, Torres stepped in the caretaker role for her younger sister.
“My older sister went to live with our grandmother, so my younger sister sees me a lot like her second mother,” Torres said proudly. “I did a lot of the housework, yard work and by age seven I could cook a full course meal.”
Her parents put a huge focus on education in and out of the home. Her mother pushed for her daughters to speak proper English at home and her father pushed them to achieve a university education.
Torres graduated high school at 17 years old and got a scholarship to a university in Puerto Rico, but her father encouraged her to attend Mount Saint Mary’s University in California where he worked.
“Making the choice to leave behind everything and everyone that I knew and loved was very difficult, and I was very overwhelmed by the college culture,” said Torres. “It definitely was not what I expected, so I was there for about a semester before going back to Puerto Rico.”
When she returned to Fajardo, she found herself alone. Her sisters had moved, her mother had joined the Navy Reserves and relocated to Florida, and she had no other blood relatives in her hometown.
She began practicing cosmetology at a local barber shop and working as a manager of a grocery store, but after a few years, she was unsatisfied with where her journey had taken her.
“Being back home, I wasn’t hanging around a good crowd,” she said. “People I knew and grew up with were getting locked up for drugs or crime or even getting killed. It was one of those moments where I looked around and said, ‘I have so much more to offer, so what am I doing here?’”
Torres said she always wanted to be an agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Drug Enforcement Agency or serve in the military. The fastest way for her to escape the bad situation she was in was to join the Army.
She enlisted as an Ammunition Specialist in September 2005, and shipped off to Basic Combat Training, or BCT, as soon as she could.
“After I graduated from BCT and Advanced Individual Training, my first duty station was Fort Carson, Colorado, and I got there in February,” Torres said anxiously. “I had never experienced winter, so I left Puerto Rico in a tank top, shorts and flip-flops. Right before we landed, the pilot said it was nine degrees in Colorado Springs.”
Torres said she was blessed with patient leadership that gave her time to acclimate to the new climate and although it took her some time to get used to the very different weather from Puerto Rico, Torres quickly adapted to the military lifestyle.
Torres deployed to Iraq in October 2006 and then again in June 2010, both in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Those deployments taught her a lot about the people she surrounded herself with.
“What I learned the most was that the people you need behind you in battle and in life are always going to be there whether it’s family or battle buddies,” she said. “You have to learn how to lean on them.”
Torres said her first deployment was very different from her second due to the arrival of her son.
“My first deployment I was on a forward operating base in southeast Baghdad, and my parents kept telling me, ‘Please don't go over there and be a hero,’ because they knew that is who I am as a person,” she said. “The second, I was on a personal security detachment so I was on the road a lot, but my son wasn't even two years old. So being away from him was really hard.”
Her son’s father was also deployed in Iraq at the time and contracted a severe case of meningitis. Due to security concerns in the region, she was not able to receive updates on his status.
“It was a lot to deal with on top of the stress of completing the mission,” Torres expressed. “I did a lot of meditating during that deployment because I was the rear vehicle commander and when we went out the gates, my team needed me to be focused. I learned I could handle a lot more stress than I could have ever imagined and still perform under the pressure of combat.”
After her deployments, Torres went through the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy in Fort Jackson, South Carolina to help transform civilian volunteers to become Combat Engineers.
During her time at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, she noticed something wasn’t right with her daughter.
“I was supposed to get stationed in Hawaii, but my daughter, who was about one year old, began regressing in her development,” she said. “I thought she might be autistic, and there was an opening at Army South at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston which is the main post for medical across all branches. So, I took the position, arrived here, and ultimately she was diagnosed with autism.”
Fortunately, she was able to get all the medical treatment her daughter needed, but Torres needed the support of her family once again as her mission required her to travel often. Her mother assisted with childcare as she traveled all over Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Torres was able to receive a compassionate assignment into her current position to allow for continued medical treatment for her daughter.
Through all of her assignments, deployments and missions, Torres attributes her triumphs and successes to the support of her family, friends and battle buddies. Specifically, her mother, Tammy, and her two sisters, Jennifer and Tamara, who stepped up to care for her children throughout the years and always pushed her to be the leader she was meant to be.
“I've always had an amazing support system back home from my family and friends and in the military as well,” Torres said with a smile. “When you have that, it makes all this pretty easy. I mean 17 years in the Army has gone by pretty quickly and the rest of my story is still being written.”