Hispanic Heritage Month: Military finds strength in diversity

  • Published
  • By Airman Davis Donaldson
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
The U.S. military is a diverse force, because it is comprised of many ethnicities from many locations throughout the world.

Throughout the year, the Department of Defense recognizes our diverse force and Hispanic Heritage Month is one of several observed months. From September 15th through October 15th, the U.S. military recognizes and honors its Hispanic heritage and history in the United States.

According to the Air Force Personnel Center, Hispanics account for 14.9% of Air Force members as of July 2, 2019.

One of the first Hispanic heroes in the Air Force was Capt. Manuel John Fernandez. He was the first Hispanic to reach flying “ace” status by downing more than 14 MiG aircraft during the Korean War. He helped pave the way for many Hispanic aviators today.

Chief Master Sgt. Raul Villarreal Jr., 14th Flying Training Wing Command Chief, has a Hispanic background and said it is very important to have observances like Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I think we should all be proud of where we came from,” Villarreal said. “Where you come from makes you unique and all of those unique attributes matter in terms of making our force stronger. I’m proud to be who I am and where I’m from.”

Villarreal was born in Ventura, California, but later moved to Surprise, Arizona, and calls Arizona home.

Both of Villarreal’s grandmothers were born in Mexico, making his parents second-generation immigrants. He said his parents taught him hard work while he was young, which in turn taught him discipline.

“My dad taught me that you have to work hard to get things done,” Villarreal said. “He said ‘you can work and you can play, but before you can play, the work has to be done…there will time for both if you do your work right the first time.’”

Although his parents were fluent in Spanish, Villarreal said they made him and his siblings learn English as their primary language so they could do well in school.

“I graduated high school and immediately went to the University of Arizona on two very small scholarships,” Villarreal said. “My second year in college I got the chicken pox and was put on academic probation, essentially losing the two scholarships. One of my best friends convinced me to enlist in the Air Force, so that I could get a GI bill and separate.”

His plan was to do only four years in the Air Force, he said. Those four years have turned into 26.

Villarreal says different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas make the Air Force powerful. All Airmen should have opportunities to celebrate their respective heritage and be proud to a part of something much larger than ourselves.

He often equates the Air Force to a professional sports team. “We all come from different walks of life but have one goal in mind and in our case, it is to defend democracy and preserve the peace.”

Staff Sgt. Malcolm Bentley, 14th Flying Training Wing Equal Opportunity specialist, explained the importance of recognizing all celebrated months of different ethnicities.

“I think it’s important that we acknowledge all months when it comes to special observances,” Bentley said. “The reason being is because everyone’s different and to show we honor the heritage of everyone and the contributions they’ve made to society.”

Bentley later said the Air Force is special because of the different upbringings, perspectives and ideas each Airman brings. Diversity makes the Air Force one of a kind, he said.

“Everyone’s brought up a different way and we all look at things differently,” Bentley said. “With all of the things we’ve experienced in our life can really dictate how we make decisions in the military. Without having that diverse thinking, it’s hard to think of ways to do things better.”