WPAFB celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month

Where I’m from: Staff Sgt. Mateo Espinoza

Staff Sgt. Mateo Espinoza is a medical laboratory technician with the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s Occupational and Environmental Health Department on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (Contributed photo)

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and recognizes the vital contributions and rich culture of Hispanic Americans.

In line with this year’s theme, “Unidos — Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation,” Team Wright-Patt is celebrating Hispanic American personnel who display strength through support.

Meet Staff Sgt. Mateo Espinoza, a medical laboratory technician at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s Occupational and Environmental Health Department on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

He conducts industrial-hygiene testing, contributing to the unit’s mission: To optimize Airmen availability, health and performance, enabling the modern warfighter to execute the mission, regardless of hazards presented by the environment or task.

Born in Mexico, he shares how this year’s theme resonates with him.

“To me, it means … we can still use the similarities we share as Latinos to come together and unite with other cultures like ours to face anything that seeks to harm the nation,” he said.

Espinoza also supports dosimetry operations on USAFSAM’s Air Force Radiation Assessment Team. AFRAT is part of Joint Task Force-Civil Support, which conducts chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear response and all-hazards defense support to civil authority operations as part of the lead federal agency to save lives, mitigate human suffering and prevent further injury.

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As a part of AFRAT, Espinoza participated in Guardian Response 2022 and trained alongside Mexican military officers invited by American military leaders.

“It was awesome seeing Mexican armed forces hand in hand with American forces training together,” he said. “It made me feel proud to be Mexican, and I felt that both my American and Mexican sides were united.”

Guardian Response is an annual homeland emergency exercise that provides realistic disaster-response training to sharpen skills and increase the capabilities of Soldiers. These exercises allow leaders to build stronger teams while elevating unit readiness levels.

Hispanic Americans have made several contributions to U.S. history, culture and achievements. An individual who inspires Espinoza is Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

“She inspires me to always find the beauty and wanderlust within me,” he said.

Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with important dates in many communities, such as various independence days in Latin America.

Though several cultures have similar faith stories, Our Lady of Guadalupe has historic ties to Mexico and is one of Espinoza’s favorite traditions.

“It’s a time for celebration, yes, but it also helps me remember how much my own mother has been able to give,” he said. “As a single mother, she made sacrifices raising me and my siblings.”

According to Gilbert Cisneros Jr., the Department of Defense’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, 17 percent of active-duty service members and 8 percent of federal civilians within DOD are Hispanic Americans.

Espinoza joins the thousands who served before him and serve today for the nation’s security and safety.

This concept of unity and togetherness giving strength is one that has been long held by DOD, leaders say, and it is a driving factor in the U.S. strive for inclusivity and equal opportunity.

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