Hispanic Heritage Month: What it means to be Hispanic and serve

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hiram Martinez
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Each year, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, MacDill AFB celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, a time in which Hispanic Americans who have served or are currently serving are recognized across the nation.

Although the observance first started as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, it didn’t take long before it became a month-long event. On Aug. 17, 1988, President Ronald Reagan enacted into law that the 30 days between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 would be known as Hispanic Heritage Month due to the many significant events for various Hispanic communities throughout this period.

This year’s theme is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope”. “For me personally, hope is what got me to where I am today,” said Airman 1st Class Emanuel Orta, a Health Services Management Specialist with the 6th Medical Group. “I think it’s a vital part of our culture.”

Orta, a Mexican-American from Dallas grew up excelling in school, playing soccer and always dreamed of joining the ranks of the world’s greatest Air Force.

“It’s surreal,” Orta said. “When I got my coin, I knew I made my family proud, I was ready to represent them, and where I come from.” Orta is the first member of his family to have joined any military branch.

For many years, Hispanic men and women have been an integral part of success in the armed forces. Many now lead in roles that are vital to the Air Force.

“The Air Force has opened many doors for me,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Pedro Romano, the 6th Air Refueling Wing Airfield Operations Officer. “It hasn’t been easy by any means, but I’m extremely proud of where I am today and where I come from.”

Romano grew up in Bogota, Colombia, amidst a drug war and political unrest. Romano quickly enlisted into the Air Force in 2001 as an air traffic controller, after moving to the U.S. nearly 5 years prior.  

After spending 12 years as an enlisted Airman, Romano decided to attend Officer Training School to become an officer in 2013.

“It’s been a long journey,” Romano added. “Throughout my experience, I have seen no difference. No one has ever come to me and treated me differently because I am Latino.”

According to Defense Manpower Data, Latinos or Hispanic make up 17.6% of the active duty force with a total number of 235,972 as of July 2021.

“My hope is that more Hispanics or Latinos are encouraged to join,” Romano said. “At the end of the day no matter what your race is, what your culture is like, or where you come from, we are all part of the same Air Force.”