Today is the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month. In his proclamation for the observance, President Barack Obama wrote, “Hispanics have served with honor and distinction in every conflict since the Revolutionary War, and they have made invaluable contributions through their service to our country.”
One Airmen fitting the president’s words is Maj. William M. Ochoa, Headquarters Air Staff, Pentagon. He received the 2009 Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference Professional Achievement – Military Award Oct. 9 (Pentagon major earns Hispanic award).
While he’s honored to receive the award, he feels earning it serves others more than him.
“I consider my time in the Air Force as spent doing my job and doing my best to accomplish the mission,” said Major Ochoa, deputy chief of the Nuclear Analyses Division in AF/A9, Air Force Studies and Analyses, Assessments and Lessons Learned. “I believe this award is meant to motivate others, those who feel they are the furthest from achieving their goals.
“My Hispanic heritage as a first-generation Cuban American, coupled with this determination, serves as an example to young people of all backgrounds to set ambitious goals and stay committed to achieving what they have set out to accomplish in their lives,” the major said.
Listed below are a few other stories about Hispanic American servicemembers I found.
Tech. Sgt. Ruben Ayala, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., wrote a commentary about Jose M. Hernandez, a Hispanic American astronaut who inspired him (Hispanic astronaut reached for the stars).
“The truth is, when I was going through school, there weren’t many ‘historic’ Hispanic American referenced in my text books that I could hold up as inspirational. While there are countless Hispanic-American contributions to our society, not many of those contributions are taught in our schools.
“I found myself able to relate to Hernandez’s background. He was born on Aug. 7, 1962 in French Camp, Calif.. His family originates from La Piedad, Michoacan, Mexico. Hernandez wanted to fly in space ever since he heard Franklin Chang-Diaz, the first Hispanic-American in space, and was selected for the Astronaut Corps.”
Another astronaut story featured Marine Lt. Col. (ret.) Carlos Noriega, written by Capt. Robert Sperling, Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Astronaut motivates Team Andrews to shoot for the stars).
“I found that people can go as far as they apply themselves. What it takes is the desire to excel,” Colonel Noriega said.
The captain wrote Colonel Noriega was part of two flights to the International Space Station. The colonel recalled “learning to work together was one of, if not the most, important parts of the mission.
“It’s about coming together to accomplish a common goal.
Legacy also drives the astronaut. “Knowing that you will be rewarded for hard work drives me,” Colonel Noriega. “It may not be you that is rewarded, but your parents and your organization all benefit from your hard work.”
Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith, National Guard Bureau Public Affairs, wrote about Latina servicemembers who received Latina Distinguished Service Awards in September (Defense Latinas praised for distinguished service).
“The contributions of Latinas continue to amaze me,” said Robert Bard, the president and chief executive officer of Latina Style Inc. “Military service at this time in our country is something very special.”
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bob Vasquez, Center for Character Development, U.S. Air Force Academy wrote about the diversity of cultures that makes America the nation it is (Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month).
“When you ask yourself what it is that makes America great, you’ll find the answer is diversity. If you’ll look around you (go ahead, no one’s watching) you’ll notice that what we call America is made up of people from all kinds of cultures, from different parts of the country or the world.
“We’re all different, yet we’re all the same. We share the same basic values that make us Americans. We’re invested in making our country and the world a better place for all of us to live. We believe in a democratic system of government where the people have a say in what and how we live.
“What makes America great is that although we have different and diverse needs and desires, we’ve been able to combine all those differences to form one very diverse, but unified, family that allows us to be ourselves and expects us to accept each other.”
He likens America to a salad bowl “The illustration of the salad bowl describes a dish that, as a whole, is its own entity, delicious and healthy. What gives that dish its flavor and wholesomeness is all of the different ingredients that make it one. Each ingredient adds its own contribution to the whole. Any part of it that’s missing will affect the end result.”
Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff works in the Pentagon with Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.