Diversity makes the Air Force stronger

  • Published
  • By Nicholas Pilch
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Have you ever met someone who has never carved a pumpkin? This was the case here at the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, when five of the six carvers were doing this for the first time.

Master Sgt. Ruben Zamora, 60th APS cargo movement section chief, was filling an additional duty as the first sergeant and stumbled across a rumor. He heard that there were some Airmen who hadn’t carved a pumpkin, ever. To ensure these individuals had a chance to experience this, the 60th APS organized a pumpkin carving contest.

“Off we went to organize a friendly pumpkin carving competition between two sections,” said Zamora. “As the competition was taking place it was brought to our attention five of the six first time carvers were from countries outside of the U.S.”

After hearing this, he began investigating where the Airmen were from and soon he had a list featuring at least 32 Airmen from 18 different countries and U.S. territories.

The Airmen all have different stories for how and why they immigrated to the U.S. or migrated from a U.S. territory to the mainland. The Airmen are either citizens now or in the process of obtaining citizenship. 

“Having a diverse group of Airmen in APS opens our eyes to the rest of the world in several ways,” said Lori Caron, 60th APS unit program coordinator and unit security assistant. “I love learning about their cultures, customs and food.”

Celebrating diversity and culture in an organization celebrates its people and allows for ideas and innovation to rapidly spread.

“When we are sitting around the table brainstorming, the amount of experience in the room is always critical to the success of the overall mission," said Zamora.

Due to the diversity in the 60th APS, there are a lot of different voices and a vast amount of expertise as many of the Airmen have education from different countries, Zamora explained. 

“The strength that is built through diversity, along with life experience and differences in upbringing and education, it’s something that we have working in our favor,” said Zamora.

The following vignettes are a glimpse of how diverse the Air Force is and of some of the Airmen in the 60th APS that ventured to the U.S. mainland. Continuing to develop our force with different backgrounds, cultures and opinions develops our Air Force to be bigger, faster, stronger.

Senior Airman Bernard Almoro, 60th APS traffic management journeyman, was born in the Philippines and immigrated with his sister and mother to the U.S. to attend college in 2017.

“I am very proud to serve the world’s greatest Air Force,” said Almoro. “It gave me a lot of opportunities in my life, and I wanted to give back to the country that helped my family to live a wonderful life.”

Master Sgt. Dianna Barret, 60th APS air freight superintendent, moved to the U.S. from British Columbia, Canada, the summer of 1999. Barret’s biggest adjustment in moving to America was how spread out her and her family became.

“I am proud to serve in the United States Air Force,” said Barret. “Not too many people know I was born and raised in Canada unless I tell them, which I am proud to do. I have served overseas and actually became a U.S. citizen while I was stationed in Germany in 2005.”

Airman 1st Class Leonel Castillo Martinez, 60th APS inbound cargo technician, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S. after marrying his wife. He is a third-generation U.S. service member in his family.

“First thing we experienced was the amount of people coming from all around the world, because back in Monterrey, the percentage of cultural diversity is very low,” said Castillo Martinez. “But now, that is one of the main things that we love about the U.S., the fact that how everybody can come from anywhere and call America their home.”

Airman Said Guevara Cruz, 60th APS air transportation apprentice, is from Oaxaca, Mexico, and came here in 2009 with his family on a work visa. The biggest differences of the U.S. and Mexico is the overall size and the modernization of the society.

“We moved to the United States because my mother wanted my sister and I to have a good future,” said Guevara Cruz. “One where we didn’t have to worry about finding a job, going to school or having good health care. Mexico isn’t a horrible country, however the school system and health care system is not as advanced as in the U.S.”  

Airman 1st Class Naomi Hill, 60th APS ramp operations specialist, is from New Brunswick, Canada and moved to the U.S. with her mother when she was 3. She said the biggest difference between Canada and the U.S. is the difference in language, even with New Brunswick being a bilingual province.

“Being in the Air Force has been a childhood dream ever since I was about 7 years old, and it took me 10 years to finally get in,” said Hill. “I am still in awe every single day that I am fortunate enough to be able to serve.”

Senior Airman Juanita Hyatt-Jenkinson, 60th APS traffic management technician, immigrated from Trelawny, Jamaica, to New York for new opportunities.

“Not only is the food different, beaches, houses and culture,” said Hyatt-Jenkinson when asked about the differences between the U.S. and Jamaica. “Being a part of the United States Air Force is definitely a privilege and not easily attainable. It made my family proud and transformed me into a stronger person. I am proud to be an American Airman.” 

Airman 1st Class Marcus Njoroge, 60th APS air transportation specialist, was born in Kijabe, Kenya and immigrated to the U.S. with his family. He is honored to serve in the Air Force and grateful for the opportunity. He said the biggest difference in the U.S. and Kenya is the attitude in Kenya to make full use out of everything, like food.

 “My family would cook what we call ‘githeri’ on a Saturday,” said Njoroge. “It’s just a mixture of maize and lima beans boiled together, and that would be food for the family for almost a week.”

Senior Airman Enoch Marfo Oduro, 60th APS traffic management receiving technician, was born in Ghana and came to the U.S. in 2013; he joined the Air Force in 2017.

“I am very grateful to the U.S. Air Force,” said Marfo Oduro. “It has developed me holistically to pay attention to detail, my punctuality and physicality.”

Marfo Oduro praises the Air Force for engraining in him the wingman concept to be stronger socially and emotionally.

Senior Airman Ricardo Melendez Rosado, 60th APS traffic management receiving technician, was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the U.S. in 2017 when he joined the U.S. Air Force.

“To serve in the U.S. Air Force is an honor and an opportunity of having stability in my family, steady income and job security,” said Melendez Rosado. “It is a privilege to serve.”

Airman 1st Class Juan Parra Peralta, 60th APS cargo processing specialist, came to the U.S. in 2014 when he was 13 years old from Colombia. He said the primary differences between Colombia and America are the chances for opportunity and better safety.

Serving in the Air Force is a Catch-22 for Parra Peralta because to be in the Air Force he has to be away from his mother and sister. He said this holiday season will be the second in a row spent alone.

Airman 1st Class Dylan Poblete, 60th APS traffic management technician, was born in Guam and was raised in a military family. His father was U.S. Army, so serving was something he wanted to do as well.

“Us Islanders always give 100% to what we do no matter what,” said Poblete. “Due to us not having a lot when we were growing up, we were outside every day after school.”

He said a lot of islanders try to join the military because of the opportunities afforded when serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Airman 1st Class Chukwuma Okonkwo, 60th APS air transportation apprentice, was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and immigrated to the U.S. to study criminal justice.

“It has been a great privilege and honor to be a part of the world’s greatest Air Force,” said Okonkwo. “I’m still new in the Air Force, but still looking forward to more experiences and learning within the force.”

Senior Airman Erik Olivares Angel, 60th APS traffic management journeyman, was born in Puebla, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 9.

“For me, it’s not just wearing the uniform every day for a country that adopted me, it is representing a country that has given me and my family an opportunity to grow,” said Olivares Angel. “A country that I have lived in most of my life and that I call home.

“I wear this uniform with pride because I’m very thankful that I was given the opportunity to serve. Now, I think of it as a way to give back to the country for all the opportunities it has given me.”

Senior Airman Christopher Oyales, 60th APS air transportation journeyman, was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. on a spouse visa.

“America provides a lot of great opportunity for people like me with big dreams,” said Oyales. “Also, way of living is much better in many ways compared to the Philippines.”

Oyales said he is proud to serve the country and protect the constitution that has given him so much opportunity.

Staff Sgt. Mayra Rivera Mendoza, 60th APS freight documentation supervisor, was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S. in 2002 to be reunited with her family. The biggest challenges she faced was learning English and the American school system.

“As a young female coming from a traditional Hispanic family, serving in the military was nowhere in any of the plans my parents had for me,” said Rivera Mendoza. “However, I am extremely lucky to have a family that was patient, and most importantly, supportive of my decision of joining the Air Force.”

Airman 1st Class Diana Sandoval, 60th APS traffic management technician, was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the U.S. when she was 10 years old. She said her family chose to come to the U.S. to have more opportunities for personal growth and a better life for future Sandoval generations.

Sandoval said serving is her way of showing appreciation to her new home. “I always wanted to serve to prove to myself that I can do it and make my parents proud.”

Master Sgt. Fabricio Toscano, 60th APS passenger terminal section chief, was born in Quito, Ecuador, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1996. He joined the Air Force in 1999, and his first assignment was at Travis AFB.

“The U.S. is very different from Ecuador,” said Toscano. “In the beginning, I did not speak English, so it was hard for me to create a life. I knew that in order to make it, I will have to learn it and fast.”

He did just that and said it feels good to give something back for all the good things the U.S. has done for him.

Senior Airman Javier Torres, 60th APS traffic management office receiving technician, was born in Lima, Peru, and moved to the U.S. with his family on travel visas.

“The opportunities to succeed are endless, you just have to find a way,” said Torres when it comes to what is different between the U.S. and Peru. “The first thing that I noticed when I got to this country is the cultural diversity.” 

Torres’ grandfather served in the Peruvian Air Force and this helped influence his decision to serve in the U.S. Air Force.

Master Sgt. Alex Willett, 60th APS air terminal operations center duty officer, was born in Panama City, Republic of Panama, and came to the U.S. in 1989. He joined the Air Force in 2000.

“It’s been an enjoyable and extremely memorable journey which has afforded me opportunities in professional and individual growth,” said Willett. “I’ve met countless peers who wound up being great friends to include my spouse. We’ve been married for 13 years now.” 

Airman 1st Class Belal Yaser, 60th APS traffic management journeyman, was born in Cairo, Egypt, and was granted U.S. citizenship at birth because his father applied for it at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt.

He said the things that are most different between Egypt and the U.S. are the culture and rules. He said being able to serve in the Air Force is a great opportunity to prove himself as it will enable him to obtain a second college degree.