ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AP) — Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Moreno's grandfather, who was from Mexico, gained his U.S. citizenship by serving in World War II.
Moreno was among three panelists who shared their backstories on Sept. 24 at the Heritage Club on Robins Air Force Base as part of this year's Robins Hispanic Heritage Observance.
"I like to talk to people because I want to tell them there are opportunities out there," said Moreno, chief of Logistics Readiness Branch for the Air Force Reserve Command A4.
About 18.1% of the U.S. population today or about 58 million people are Hispanic, Moreno noted.
In the Armed Forces, overall, 17.8% of the estimated 2.2 million personnel are Hispanic.
In the Air Force, including active guard and guard reserve, 14% of enlisted personnel are Hispanic, compared to 6% of officers, he said.
"There are individuals, leaders that have come before me in the Hispanic community that have paved the way for me and what I have today," Moreno said.
As a young man, Moreno didn't have any plans of joining the military.
Moreno grew up in an agricultural community in California. His father told him that unless he wanted to work in the fields or farm for the rest of his life, he would need to go college.
An Air Force recruiter told Moreno about the G.I. Bill, and he joined up.
He just wanted to get an education. He also found a career. He's now served 33 years in the military.
Air Force Master Sgt. Ruben Torres also fell into his career in the military. His family came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, and then returned when he was 11. He was born in Massachusetts.
At 18, he was unsure of what path to follow. His neighbor told him he was joining the Air Force, and that Torres ought to also. And he did.
"Being a Hispanic _ being from my background _ I get to show other folks, right, that in the military, everything is open," said Torres, whose had a variety of assignments in his 22-year military career.
His first assignment was as security force member at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. He's now with the 51st Combat Communications Squadron.
His assignments have led him all over the world, including Korea, Japan, Illinois, Columbia, and The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. Ironically, these posts were not his first choices.
He learned to embrace those assignments and that brought him success.
"People just don't come for one certain job, or to be at a certain job," Torres said of serving in the Air Force. "You can be anything you want, whether you choose it or not, the best thing for you is to do is the best job you can do."
Air Force Col. John Andrade grew up in a small town in California.
His parents, especially his father, who emigrated from Mexico, instilled in Andrade a strong work ethic and a focus on the family. Andrade said he was encouraged to always do the best he could do.
Andrade joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps program in college and then the Air Force "where my adventure started."
Andrade, chief of the Global Power and Vigilance Division in the Air Force Reserve Command, was influenced by those who had gone before him.
Two of uncles served in the military, one in Korea and one in Vietnam.
He recalled their reaction when he was commissioned as an officer.
"They looked at me, and they were star struck because going back in their time ... the only time you met an officer was when you were first introduced to the unit, or you were in trouble," Andrade said. "That was the closest they ever got."
Their legacy of service lives on in Andrade.
"They served for pride and for country," Andrade said. "They served for honor of their family, and I saw that, and I wanted to continue that legacy."
Information from: The Telegraph, http://www.macontelegraph.com