Story by Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon
LAREDO, Texas – Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, unfurled their flags, shouldered arms and marched toward Mexico. The Guardsmen, from the unit’s color guard, presented the colors in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration - International Bridge Ceremony held in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 23, 2013.
The event serves as the “official welcome” between officials and dignitaries from Mexico and the United States by exchanging “abrazos," or embraces, symbolizing good will between the two nations.
Staff Sgt. Pedro Villarreal, color guard detail noncommissioned officer in charge, considered it an honor to be part of this bi-national ceremony.
“It’s a great experience to be able to lead a group of VIPs from the United States to meet their counterparts from Mexico in the center of the bridge where the two countries meet,” Villarreal said. “I grew up here and have seen how both countries contribute to each others' culture. This ceremony allows us to celebrate and embrace that.”
The “abrazos” are exchanged between U.S. and Mexican counterparts on the international bridge, close to where the boundary lies. Mayors from the cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, led the exchange, followed by state, federal and military representatives from both countries.
Brig. Gen. Kenneth W. Wisian, assistant adjutant general – Air and commander of the Texas Air National Guard, represented the U.S. Military exchanging his “abrazo” with Mexican Gen. Antonio Solorzano Ortega. Brig. Gen. Sean A. Ryan, also present, said hosting the gesture on the bridge itself is symbolic of the solidarity between U.S. and Mexican militaries.
“The bridge we’re on is not just a physical structure that connects both countries, it’s also a conduit that allows us to foster relationships with our military counterparts in Mexico,” Ryan said. “I’m proud the Texas National Guard represented the U.S. Military, and that we were able to provide the color guard detail for the ceremony.”
This is the second year Villarreal and his detail supported the event.
“They were so impressed by our performance last year that they asked us out again,” Villarreal said. “It’s a very important occasion, dignitaries from both countries are out there, and all eyes are on us to kick off this event. My detail was proud to not only represent our country but Texas as well.”
The ceremony was followed by the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Parade, wrapping up two weeks of events celebrating the life of the first president.