2019 Hispanic Heritage Month

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Staff Sgt. Douglas M. Bakhsh

1413th Engineer Company, Indiana Army National Guard

Bakhsh, 32, of Fort Wayne, joined on a whim in 2007 and relishes the people he has met from Iraq, Kuwait, Germany and across the United States. "I am learning something every day from other Soldiers, such as languages, history and cultural cuisine. We are a large melting pot that continues to grow every day."

Staff Sgt. Liceth Dominique Bulla Rey

Maintenance Squadron, 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard

Bulla Rey, 32, of Charlotte, N.C., joined the military to be part of something bigger than herself and to help others after seeing news reports of the U.S. military assisting victims of a tsunami in Japan. "I try to be better than yesterday and only hope one day I can contribute as big as those people who help in tsunamis, natural disasters, or just help people in need contribute."

Staff Sgt. Alejandra Caballero

Headquarters, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), Vermont Army National Guard

Caballero, 31, of Colchester, continues a family tradition of service, following her aunts, who served in the Navy and Air Force, and grandfather (World War II). She said all the valuable training she has received has only reinforced her decision to join the Guard.

Sgt. Diego A. Franco

South Carolina National Guard

Franco was born in Colombia and came to the United States with his parents. A member of the SCNG since 2008, he is a UH-60 Black Hawk mechanic and a translator for the SCNG and their SPP partners in the National Army of Colombia. Franco says he loves his job, "I love working and doing what I went to school for as an aircraft mechanic."

Pfc. Damaris Garcia-Moran

150th Maintenance Company, Nevada Army National Guard

Garcia-Moran, 21, of Carson City, considers Hispanic Heritage Month "a time in which we are able to celebrate our incredibly wide variety of cultures, accomplishments and history, which are often overlooked during other parts of the year." Her favorite part of service is the comradery among the troops.

Sgt. 1st Class Mara Gordon

Joint Force Headquarters, Florida Army National Guard

Gordon, 49, of St. Augustine, is an air traffic controller of Colombian descent who considers Hispanic Heritage Month "an opportunity to show the world our cultures and differences in heritage, and this uniqueness makes me who I am."

Tech. Sgt. Eileen Jaynes

158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard

Jaynes, 27, of South Burlington, joined in 2010 to get help with college costs. For her, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity "to share my culture with other members and to remind everyone that every heritage is important."

Maj. Eric G. Juarez

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment/Joint Force Headquarters State Aviation Office, North Carolina Army National Guard

Juarez, 36, of Holly Springs, appreciates the diversity of the military, with parents from Puerto Rico and Guatemala. "The military is a melting pot of people that have grown up with different life experiences from different cultures. Many of those can be used to develop skill sets that contribute to the military's overall success."

Sgt. Daisy Lopez

341st Military Intelligence Battalion, Washington Army National Guard

Lopez, 23, a human resource specialist, joined the military five years ago because of the education benefits and "the feeling of being part of a team with positive influence and determination." A highlight of her service was joining the 181st Brigade Support Battalion for a four-day Cascadia Rising earthquake drill.

Master Sgt. Miguel Menendez

102nd Operation Support Squadron, Massachusetts Air National Guard

Menendez, 47, of Lakeville, was born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents and is the first in his family to serve in the U.S. military. His favorite moment was a 2015 trip to Paraguay with other members of the 102 nd Intelligence Wing in the State Sponsorship Program (SPP).

Tech. Sgt. Claudia Patricia Ortiz

125th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Florida Air National Guard

Ortiz, 38, says Hispanic Heritage Month has reminded her of the importance of never forgetting where she came from. "As a minority, my goal has always been to give back and contribute in any way possible to this country – a country that has given me and my family a life full of opportunities – and joining the Air Force has given me that chance to give back."

Master Sgt. Yvette C. Oviedo

Joint Force Headquarters-Texas, Texas Air National Guard

Oviedo, 39, a first-generation Mexican-American, considers a highlight of her service since 2001 her deployment to Balad, Iraq, where her brother was also based. "We were able to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's together. My brother's unit took us to the CPA palace in a Black Hawk and we had lunch there. We flew to Babylon and got to explore the ruins."

Maj. Salomon J. Pinzon

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Joint Force Headquarters-Texas, Texas Army National Guard

Pinzon, 45, of Austin, was a first lieutenant assigned to the Inactive Ready Reserve when he saw the 9/11 attacks on television and decided to join the Texas Army National Guard. Born in the United States, his family is from Mexico so he considers it an obligation "to maintain 'this road of opportunities' for those Hispanic leaders who follow right behind us."

Spc. Belen Ramirez

150th Maintenance Company, Nevada Army National Guard

Ramirez, 25, of Reno, has met "some amazing people who have become family" since joining the Guard in 2017. To her, Hispanic Heritage Month "means that we can all come from different backgrounds and come together."

CW3 Stephen K. Rivero

13th Army Band, Florida Army National Guard

Rivero, 50, of Miramar, joined in 1986 and is conductor of the Florida Guard's 13th Army Band. He calls Hispanic Heritage Month "a unique opportunity to recognize the diversity of our organization, while at the same time highlighting the contributions made by Hispanics to the armed forces, and the protection and defense of our country."

Maj. Ana Marie Schaus

Joint Force Headquarters-Florida, Florida Army National Guard

Schaus, 39, of St. Augustine, uses her bilingual skills as a sexual assault investigator for the Office of Complex Investigations. She is fond of the Malay proverb, "a tree with strong roots laughs at storms," adding: "I loved the richness and pride that comes with knowing my roots, and they are strong."

Senior Airmen Sol Maria Trinidad

290th Joint Communication Support Squadron, Florida Air National Guard

Trinidad, 31, who spent most of her childhood in Puerto Rico, considers the military a second family. The highlight of her service was the "humbling experience" of helping victims of Hurricane Irma. "The thank you's and smiles on the faces, the amount of hugs you receive because you have provided them with a warm blanket. Those are the things that I mostly feel proud of."

Tech. Sgt. Jose A. Valentin-Rivera

Maintenance Squadron, 186th Air Refueling Wing, Mississippi Air National Guard

Valentin-Rivera, 37, of Dothan, Ala., is from Puerto Rico. His favorite part about serving: "Every time our aircraft fly, it hits me with this sense of accomplishment because I'm part of a team and a family that not only takes care of each other but also takes good care of our planes and aircrews."

Sgt. Joao Valenzuela

Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, North Dakota Army National Guard

Valenzuela, 22, grew up in the Dominican Republic inspired by his father, who was a general there. Hispanic Heritage Month "inspires us, gives us an example to follow and teaches us that despite the cultural or language barrier some of us might have at the beginning, or how far away we are from home – or worst, the lack of a good Mangú and Adobo seasoning – it teaches us that we can do it."

Pvt. Maria Villa

1413th Engineer Company, Indiana Army National Guard

Villa, 22, of North Vernon, joined in 2018 and considers basic training a highlight of her service so far. "The National Guard has changed my life entirely and provided me with any resource a person would need to succeed in life."