Energizing our nation’s diversity

Courtesy of the Hispanic Heritage Month committee
Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, command chief master sergeant of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command
Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, command chief master sergeant of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command

National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Just as the observance month is not confined to a specific calendar month, so too are the contributions and achievements of the Hispanic Americans who have helped energize our nation’s diversity.

One such individual is the command chief master sergeant of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez is a native of Puerto Rico who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1989 as a transportation specialist.

Feeling the need to be closer to the fight, he volunteered to be a pararescue specialist in 1994 and graduated with only 11 out of the original 113 that were in his class.

Colon-Lopez has deployed in support of numerous operations as a pararescue specialist.

In March 2004, he was in Afghanistan on a mission to capture a high-profile target with the intention of preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons. During the mission, his team sustained small arms fire, causing serious damage to their helicopter.

“That specific night was an eyeopening experience for us in the sense that the enemy almost got us,” Colon-Lopez said.

As bullets were flying he pressed forward, uncertain of the enemy size, and overran the enemy position resulting in 10 enemy apprehensions, two enemy kills and the destruction of multiple small caliber weapons and rocket propelled grenades. As a result of these actions, Colon-Lopez was among the first six Airmen and first Hispanic awarded the newly created Air Force Combat Action Medal.

“I look at it in the sense that timing played a part in the honor of the six of us to be the first ones to get it,” Colon-Lopez said. “I would like to say that there are many others who engaged in combat well before I did that should have been in the first six; Airmen like Tech Sgt. John Chapman, Tech Sgt. Keary Miller and Senior Airman Jason Cunningham as examples.”

He admits that the repetitive nature of combat operations can sometimes lead to complacency.

When asked what kept him going, Colon-Lopez said, “I was told numerous times that I was not going to make it. I kept that lack of belief from those people in the back of my mind, and I used it as fuel when the tank was running near empty. Also, I had very close teammates, and we relied on each other to make it through.”

As the command chief master sergeant for AFCENT, he involves himself in many community groups.

“The way I see it, the U.S. Air Force values diversity for many reasons,” Colon-Lopez said. “The main one being diversity of thought. Different upbringings give us different perspectives to come up with great solutions to very complex issues. That is the power of America, and that is why I am proud to be an American Airman.”

A beacon of diversity, Colon-Lopez embodies what is possible through hard work and determination and symbolizes Hispanics making a difference in the military.