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NEWS | Sept. 23, 2021

‘My biggest strength’: IAAFA instructor celebrates Hispanic heritage

By Erinn Burgess 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the Department of Defense celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month and the theme “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.

The month pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society, including our military.

Staff Sgt. Carlos Alberto Zapata Gonzalez is one such Hispanic American Airman at Joint Base San Antonio.

Born in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Zapata Gonzalez said the military was a dream job for him when he was a kid. Today, he is an international force protection instructor for the Inter-American Air Force Academy’s 837th Training Squadron at JBSA-Lackland.

“I saw my first opportunity to make my dream a goal when I got my [U.S.] citizenship at the age of 17,” he said. “I applied myself to learn the language and prepare physically. It took a couple of years before making the decision to join because I didn’t want to leave my entire family behind, but with their support, I made the best decision of my life.”

At the beginning of his military career, Zapata Gonzalez recalled seeing his Hispanic culture and accent as a weakness; but “through passion and perseverance it has become my biggest strength,” he explained.

“My Spanish capacity is essential for my job and besides the communication aspect, my heritage makes me able to relate to our Latin American students so we can create trust and partnership on another level that no other person or country can replicate,” he said.

“Also,” he added, “working at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy made me realize the importance of the Hispanics in the military and the impact that different cultures have on our military.”

Those who claim to be Latino or Hispanic make up 17.6% of the active duty force, numbering 235,972 as of July 2021, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center.

As of June 2021, 15.9% of active duty Airmen claim Latino or Hispanic as their ethnicity, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.

“Diversity is one of the most powerful weapons that our military has, it can’t be replicated by other nations and it’s a reflection of our country,” Zapata Gonzalez said.

“I am blessed to be able to support Mexico, my country of birth, as an international instructor while representing the United States, the country that gave me a second chance and the opportunity of making my family proud,” he concluded.

Hispanics have a profound and positive influence on our country through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work and service, added Maria Rodriguez, JBSA affirmative employment program manager. “They have enhanced and shaped our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect the multi-ethnic and multicultural customs of their community.”

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, JBSA displayed posters across its installations, including all JBSA libraries and Military and Family Readiness Centers.

For more information on NHHM, call 210-221-1408 or email