When Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos stopped at Joint Base Lewis-McChord last month, translators were needed. Although the distinguished visitor and his wife, María Clemencia Rodríguez Múnera, came on a weekend, protocol and security arrived nearly a week prior. Someone needed to show them the area and help them get around.
Sergeant Sergio A. Nanclares, Alpha Company, 46th Aviation Support Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, petroleum supply specialist took the job. At a ceremony Dec. 30, Col. Leonard Kosinski, 62nd Airlift Wing commander, thanked Nanclares for his help with an Air Force Achievement medal and coin.
“The success of this visit showed the importance of our joint installation with Army and Air Force working together,” Kosinski said. “This was the first visit from a president in 10 years. We received feedback about how impressed our visitors were and how we went above and beyond, which is always what we strive for. Sergeant Nanclares had a part in that by coming in on his own time to help.”
A certificate came with the coin, highlighting his outstanding achievement from Nov. 9 to 19.
“(Nanclares) sacrificed countless hours of off-duty time utilizing his translation skills into perfection that were flawlessly used by numerous Colombian distinguished visitors and base leadership over this 11 day period, bridging all gaps in language barriers,” the certificate states.
After initially showing a part of the group around, Nanclares was assigned to help two-star and three-star generals from Colombia. Once they learned Nanclares was originally from Colombia, Santos took some time to speak with him. The president asked Nanclares about how long he has been in America, his family and career.
“It was a cool experience to get to help out the leaders here and also get to meet the president,” he said. “I am of course neutral on South American politics since becoming a U.S. citizen, and (had) the opportunity to do what my command asked me by acting as a translator.”
Born in Medellin, Colombia, Nanclares came to the United States 21 years ago. After being turned away to serve on the Florida police force, Nanclares signed up for the Army.
“I wanted to give back to my new country and serve in a helpful way,” he said. “Once the police didn’t work out, I looked at other options and saw the Army would help me with my language.”
Nanclares said he never thought that his first language would come in handy during his service. Especially to help translate for the president of Colombia.
He became a private after passing a language test with five months at the Defense Language Institute at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, under his belt. After basic and advanced training, Nanclares received his first installation assignment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He and his wife and daughter have been living here for the past five years.
“There have been so many great opportunities here, and I feel so lucky to get to serve my country,” Nanclares said. “The fact that I received the time I needed for this special assignment shows how amazing my leadership and those I worked with are.”