Celebrating Hispanic heritage

by Maj. Carlos E. Chirivi
786th Civil Engineer Squadron Operations Flight commander

I often reflect on what a great privilege it is to serve for a military service composed of people from all the corners of the Earth fighting together for a common purpose: world peace.

This is a family of professionals, and this family grows in strength and courage through its diverse members offering unique and unmatched capabilities to meet all challenges.

The Air Force appreciates what each member does for the country and recognizes the accomplishments of all heritage groups. From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, our Air Force celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month.

The history of Hispanics in America started in 1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in the new world and stretches to today. Hispanics have served in the armed forces since the American Revolutionary War to our current war in Afghanistan, with 42 Hispanics receiving the Medal of Honor.

Our first awardee was Cpl. Joseph H. De Castro of the Union Army on July 3, 1863, and our most recent awardee is Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who fought in Afghanistan. We honor them for their sacrifices.

It is always important to pay tribute to our fallen warriors, but it is also important to recognize those who excelled when challenged, such as flying ace Col. Manuel J. Fernandez, who flew 125 combat missions in the Korean War; Gen. Richard E. Cavazos, who became the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general; and Edward Hidalgo, the secretary of the Navy in 1979. These great men contributed significantly to the success of the U.S. military.

I am Hispanic, and I’m very thankful to my parents who ventured into the United States in search of the American dream. They ventured into the factories of New Jersey where they met and started a family. I am a first generation American of Colombian parents who, ever since my brothers and sisters were young, told us of the violence they experienced as they grew up leading them to migrate.

It is important to recognize the sacrifices and courage of many Hispanics who left their loved ones to face many challenges and hardships.  Sometimes, these Hispanics don’t have a choice.

For example, some are affected by the violence of narco-terrorism and claim political asylum. Many Hispanics have surpassed all adversities and become role models for all.

One story in particular that I want to highlight is of Olga Custodio, who wanted to be a military pilot but was turned down by two military branches. This did not stop her efforts to make her dream come true as she tried once more when the Air Force was recruiting women to become pilots. Eventually, she became the first Latina to make it through military flight school and went on to complete a 20-year career as a pilot for American Airlines. Her advice to all is that people should not give up on their dreams, and her mantra is: “Querer es Poder” (when there’s a will there’s a way).

There are several ways to immerse oneself into the Hispanic culture and learn its past. Two of these ways are through the Linguistic Enabled Airmen Program and the Hispanic Heritage Committee. I am part of LEAP, and I just came back from a linguistic and cultural immersion in Brasilia, Brazil, where I had the opportunity to learn a new language and discover the fascinating Brazilian culture.

The Hispanic Heritage Committee is another way to get involved with activities throughout the year, and I heard they are working on a Latin dance program, Spanish classes and cooking.  And, don’t forget, “Querer es Poder.”