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Embraced in America, Airman Pays It Forward

The Defense Department honors the many contributions Hispanic Americans have made in defense of the nation during National Hispanic Heritage Month and throughout the year.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez, a noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health with the 325th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, works to ensure airmen with different cultural backgrounds feel heard, safe and at home. 
 
Velazquez moved to the United States from Mexico City when his father's career provided the opportunity. 

A young boy holding a soccer ball sits on his father's shoulders.
Shoulder Shot
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez sits on his father's shoulders. Velazquez is the 325th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron's noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 220830-F-NB615-391C

 
"It was tough having to leave [friends behind] because at 10 years old, right, that's your primary focus," said Velazquez. "The language barrier was probably my biggest challenge. Not only was I trying to make new friends, but I was also trying to learn a language." 
 
For many immigrants, the shock of being immersed in a vastly different culture can also be very intimidating. 
 
"I expected for people to not be as inviting or kind, especially because I didn't know the language," explained Velazquez. "Everyone was always super welcoming and nice, even when I didn't know [what they were saying] they would always try to help me. I'm very thankful for that because a lot of times when it comes to immigrants, whether they're from Mexico or other countries, they're not necessarily always accepted."

An airman sits on a couch holding a clipboard.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez, 325th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, poses for a photo at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Aug. 29, 2022. Velazquez moved to the United States when he was 10 years old from Mexico City. While the language barrier was a challenge, Velazquez says he utilizes his experience to help other airmen who might be struggling with similar issues.
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Tiffany Del Oso
VIRIN: 220829-F-DB615-1006C
An airman speaks to another airman.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez, 325th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, speaks to an airman at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Aug. 29, 2022. Velazquez ensures patients receive correct medical care and oversees programs and personnel.
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Tiffany Del Oso
VIRIN: 220829-F-DB615-1002C

Velazquez explained that although his transition into the U.S. came with a lot of challenges, it opened up a lot of opportunities, including the opportunity to join the Air Force. 
 
"I had a couple of friends that had already started the enlistment process, and, when they started telling me about it, I was interested so I went to a recruiter to ask some more questions," explained Velazquez. 
 
Nine years later, Velazquez oversees an entire mental health flight. This involves managing patient care schedules, coordinating higher levels of care, deployment and PCS clearances, and maintaining a certification as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor. 

An airman sits on a couch with a clipboard.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez, 325th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, poses for a photo at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Aug. 29, 2022. Velazquez, a member of the Hispanic Heritage Association at Tyndall, volunteered to share his story in attempt to bring awareness and participation to Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Tiffany Del Oso
VIRIN: 220829-F-DB615-1022C

 
"Even though he's not an officer, he's taught me so many things that I can use as [a leader]," said Capt. Bethany Young, the squadron's interim flight commander for mental health, the squadron's interim flight commander for mental health. "He had so much patience for me when I got here. I feel like his background made him more prepared to have that patience with me and not get really frustrated when I didn't know things. Instead, he helped guide me through different situations without making me feel incompetent," Young said.
 
Velazquez also volunteers at the local elementary schools when they ask for bilingual speakers to read to children.

"After talking to some of them, sometimes they feel super scared," explained Velazquez. "They just don't think they're ever going to learn English, and I know I felt that way at one point, too. So, being able to talk to them and mentor them I think has been one of the more rewarding things I've been able to do."

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