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Face of Defense: Airman Describes Military Journey

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley
4th Fighter Wing

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C., Sept. 20, 2013 – She had a limited English vocabulary that made it difficult to understand and communicate with her instructors. Her family was thousands of miles away, though it felt even farther for her. Nothing came easy.

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After spending the first 27 years of her life in Puerto Rico, earning two college degrees and working as a pharmacy chemist, Senior Airman Yesenia Camacho-Arce joined the Air Force as a nondestructive inspection specialist, but never forgets her Hispanic roots. Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year and highlights the achievements and

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But after completing eight weeks of Air Force basic military training, there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

For Senior Airman Yesenia Camacho-Arce, 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection specialist, the support of her family has encouraged her to reach the goals and dreams she has set for herself.

“I was so happy and proud that I made it,” Camacho-Arce said. “It was a very special moment when I graduated and got to see my family again and share it with them.”

Graduating from basic training was just the beginning of her transition into the blue.

Originally from Dorado, Puerto Rico, a small town on the northern coast, Camacho-Arce said her family has a very strong heritage and bond with each other. Puerto Rico has nearly 4 million residents, yet the island is only slightly larger than Delaware, a state with fewer than 1 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With so many people in such a relatively small space, Camacho-Arce said, families and townspeople tend to be very close.

“The biggest difference [between Puerto Rico and the United States] is the people,” she explained. “I am very close with my entire family -- aunts, uncles and cousins. It made it really hard to leave them behind.”

During her last few years in Puerto Rico, Camacho-Acre spent her time earning two degrees from the University of Puerto Rico. She received an associate’s degree to become a pharmacy technician and quickly began putting her skills to work. While working full-time to help support her family, she also went to school to achieve a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial chemistry.

She spent more than a year working as a chemist at a pharmacy before the idea of military life crossed her mind. Her brother, a Navy chief petty officer and one of her role models growing up, influenced her to enlist, she said.

Camacho-Arce said she joined the Air Force in November 2010. As a nondestructive inspection specialist, she is responsible for inspecting jets, munitions and ground vehicles to ensure all moving parts are in working order.

The job is similar to a doctor taking an X-ray of a body to see exactly where the problem is, she explained, and it requires attention to detail. Spotting imperfections, such as wears and cracks, she said, is critical to the aircraft’s operational safety.

In her short time in the Air Force, Camacho-Arce has piled up a list of accomplishments. She earned a below-the-zone promotion to senior airman in June 2012, and was recognized as the Quality Assurance Top Performer later that year.

“She is the first to accomplish a job without anyone having to tell her to start the job,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Cinnamon Linkous, Camacho-Arce’s supervisor. “Her motivation is admirable, and I see a lot of potential in her with her leadership skills.”

With a bachelor’s degree on her résumé, Camacho-Arce originally considered becoming an officer, but she said the timing just wasn’t right. But as much as she enjoys her job now, she added, she’s still considering obtaining a commission in the future.

Regardless of her decision, Camacho-Arce said, her family has always supported her in whatever goals she sets out to accomplish.

“Every day I tell my wife that she is capable of doing anything she wants to, because she is so persistent,” said Evaristo Santiago, her husband of six years. “We are always going to be there for her and be so proud of her.”

Camacho-Arce said she looks forward to continuing to excel as part of the Air Force family.

“I never could have accomplished the things that I have without the support of my husband and family,” she said. “The Air Force has been a big change from my life in Puerto Rico. My family keeps me going, even though it’s hard sometimes, but it has been a great opportunity for us.”


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Related Sites:
4th Fighter Wing
Special Report: National Hispanic Heritage Month – 2013

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