Airman Embraces Diversity During Hispanic Heritage Month
By Air Force Senior Airman Aubrey White
4th Fighter Wing
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C., Sept. 25, 2013 "Diversidad estimula la creatividad, facilitando el desarrollo de ideas y soluciones para resolver desafíos complejos. La creatividad es impulsada por nuestras características únicas, apoyadas por experiencias personales, antecedentes sociales y culturales, y nuestra fortaleza educativa y filosófica. Estas características facilitan múltiples puntos de vista, ideas y soluciones; y es lo que nos permite superar cualquier reto."
Air Force Maj. Nelson AvilesFigueroa, commander of the 4th Communications Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., grew up on the island of Puerto Rico where he said he developed values like honesty, humility, loyalty and a hard-working mentality, which helped to make him the airman he is today. Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year, highlights the achievements and contributions of Hispanic citizens. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Aubrey White
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Translation: "Diversity enables creativity, facilitating the development of ideas and solutions to resolve complex challenges. Creativity is driven by our unique characteristics, supported by personal experiences, social and cultural backgrounds, and educational and philosophical strengths. These characteristics enable multiple perspectives, ideas and solutions, allowing us to overcome any challenge," said Air Force Maj. Nelson AvilesFigueroa, commander of the 4th Communications Squadron here.
As a young man who grew up on the island of Puerto Rico, AvilesFigueroa embraces the values that made him the airman he is today.
"Honesty, humility, loyalty and a hard-working mentality, all values deeply embedded in my culture, make me a better airman," he said. "That foundation has helped me progress in my career and most definitely helped me become the airman I am today."
AvilesFigueroa said he is proud to be Puerto Rican. He employs Hispanic Heritage Month, he said, as a time to reflect on where his career began.
His journey to serve in the Air Force started after he graduated from the University of Puerto Rico. With a degree in mathematics and a wife and two children to care for, he felt his only options for a stable income were to become a math teacher or join the military.
"I grew up in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and although Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, we don't speak English," he recalled. "My first words in English were actually at Basic Military Training, when the military training instructor was in front of me, yelling at me, as I was trying to digest everything."
Although he somewhat understood simple terminology and instructions, AvilesFigueroa said he had the pleasure of meeting a bilingual Hispanic trainee from New York who was eager to help him.
"BMT was all about teamwork and determination," he said. "When the language barrier made things 'interesting' for me, he translated the more complex instructions and actions [so] I dedicated all of my limited free time during BMT to improving my English skills."
AvilesFigueroa said his determination was essential to completing basic military training in hopes of providing a better life for his family. His family is what drives him to be successful, he said, and he couldn't let them down.
Upon completion of BMT and technical school, AvilesFigueroa entered the communications career field as a radar maintainer. His first assignment was at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., where AvilesFigueroa said he and his family were completely out of their comfort zone.
With a new lifestyle, he found a new way to connect to the people around him using his culture.
"[Hispanic Heritage Month] is an opportunity for me to share my heritage with my co-workers," he said. "I use this month to educate peers about Puerto Rico and about what being Puerto Rican means. A lot of people actually don't know that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, or how our economy developed, so I use this opportunity just to share a little bit about the uniqueness of our culture."
He believes it's also important for other airmen to share their heritage because the diversity they bring to the Air Force is integral in finding solutions to daily challenges.
AvilesFigueroa plans to be involved with as many aspects of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations on base as possible and encourages all to use this time to reflect on the significance of diversity.