JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Airmen and Guardians from Air Force Recruiting Service teamed with universities and organizations throughout Puerto Rico to host Project Blue Helix, a resiliency event, in Mayaguez and San Juan, May 2-6, 2022. Nearly 400 underrepresented youth participated.
Second Lt. Brennan Burke, a Gold Bar Recruiter with the 333rd Recruiting Squadron and 2nd Lt. Margiealice Uffre-Gomez, a GBR for the 342nd RCS masterminded PBH. The multi-day resiliency project aimed to make a historically underrepresented demographic aware of Air Force and Space Force opportunities and highlight resiliency on an island that has had catastrophic natural disasters.
PBH offered students two Warrior Days and two diversity panels featuring Puerto Rican or Latino panelists at two separate locations. Warrior Days featured four stations designed by 330th RCS special warfare recruiters to replicate real-world scenarios that SW Airmen encounter.
“This event also included a competition in which teams competed for a resiliency award which was given to the flight that showed the most leadership and resiliency throughout all four stations,” Burke said. “We provided 125 Delayed Enlistment Program members, University of Puerto Rico Air Force ROTC Detachment 756 and 775 cadets, local Civil Air Patrol members, and high school students a realistic view of what a potential career in our Air Force could be.”
“The largest challenge that Puerto Ricans faced during Hurricane Maria was food scavenging -- no water, no gas, and no way of communicating to their loved ones on the island or in the states,” said Kiara Cabrera, an Air Force ROTC cadet. “Some houses were without water for seven months and many without a roof over their own house for eight to 10 months. These are the moments in which adaptability is the only way to survive.”
With direction from both the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief of Space Operations, AFRS employed several diversity and inclusion initiatives to cast a wide net for diverse applicants.
Among those initiatives is the General Officer Inspire program. The program dubbed “GO Inspire” began Jan. 1, 2021, and rallies general officers to hit the streets with teams of top Airmen and Guardians to inform, influence and inspire young Americans for military service. COVID-19 protocols limited in-person GO Inspire gatherings until recently and were safe to meet for face-to-face events.
For GO Inspire a general officer with Puerto Rican origins, Lt. Gen. Marc Sasseville, provided a keynote speech on resiliency to about 100 cadets at the University of Puerto Rico. Sasseville is the 12th Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau. In his speech, Sasseville provided his take on perseverance, relationships and community as key elements to being successfully resilient.
“So much resilience is baked into our culture — resilience in the face of natural disasters, resilience drawn from centuries of cultural conflict, resilience that comes from making an island your home,” Sasseville said. “Like the ocean, we all have the power to create, to comfort, or to destroy. It’s up to you how you use the power you’re given.”
“In addition to our GO Inspire engagements with underrepresented youth groups at underrepresented locations, one of the CSAF’s objectives in the Rated Diversity Improvement Strategy is to network with the more than 700 minority-serving institutions across America and its territories through a senior leader visit or career fair,” said Master Sgt. Cherelle Terry, GO Inspire program manager. “We want to maximize our ability to get applicants from various untapped geographic regions and academic sources that typically don’t have Airmen and Guardians in the local vicinity and talk to them about rated careers or space. With Project Blue Helix our senior leaders and recruiters were able to reach out to eight of 49 of our MSI’s in Puerto Rico.”
Panelist, Maj. Irene Fernandez, a flight commander assigned to the 633rd Medical Support Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, said she is grateful for the opportunity to give back to the island where she was born and raised. “Growing up, I didn’t have a good knowledge of the military. I saw the military as a way to break the cycle of poverty and I knew I would have a better life because of the military.”
“Diversity isn’t just about gender or race. It’s about the diversity of thought and experiences,” Fernandez said. “You never know who you are going to touch through outreach engagements like this. I met a young female cadet who is on the brink of graduating and is unable to commission because of her inability to pass the Air Force Officer Qualification Test due to the language barrier. I was able to connect her to the appropriate people in the Medical Service Corps and if she’s able to successfully pass interviews and the [Graduate Record Examinations] she may be able to earn her commission after all. She had another opportunity that nobody thought was possible and through this trip, we were able to connect some pieces that may help her achieve her dream.”
AFRS Det. 1 offers various diversity initiatives like the Aim High Flight Academy, Aviation Inspiration Mentors, the Rise Above Aviation Mentorship Program, GO Inspire Program, and zone blitz’s like the one conducted in Puerto Rico.
For more information on all these programs and how you can get involved, visit https://www.recruiting.af.mil/About-Us/AFRS-Detachment-1