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“In Uniform, All of Us Are American”
From Hoy
By Karina Valencia
April 14, 2003

Five men and one woman, all Hispanic, members of wings 320 and 363 of the U.S. Air Force, spoke by telephone on Friday with various journalists from Hispanic media.

Without mentioning where they were, the aviators spoke about their experiences in the Middle East, their patriotism and their desire to come home.

One of the interviewees, sergeant Felix Respeto, born in New York, told about his reaction when his superiors gave him orders to be a part of the invasion of Iraq. “The first thing I thought about was that I would have to leave my family for who knows how long, and without knowing when I would see them again,” said Respeto, 34.

His wife, Myra Respeto, together with her two children, is waiting for Felix Respeto to come home to New Jersey as soon as possible. “We are a very close-knit family. We go everywhere together and we miss him terribly when he is not here,” she said.

Besides Respeto, the other aviators were also anxious to return to the United States. The aero-technician Melina Curiel, a 20-year old Mexican who was born in Los Angeles, California, has been in the Middle East for barely five weeks but she already misses her boyfriend and her family. The young woman said that she was proud to become part of “history.”

“I have realized that being part of the Air Force is more than the education and being able to travel, it is about how proud you feel inside. Some day I am going to be able to tell my children that I was there,” Curiel said.

The Dominican Diogenes Cruz, a 22-year old senior aero-technician, said that she feels more “American” than ever. “I am not a citizen, but when we put on this uniform, even if we are Latino, we are all American,” said Cruz, from Florida, who was the first in her family to get a university education.

Another one of the participants, the sergeant technician Edwin Lucian, who has spent just five days on his mission, said that he found his companions in good morale. Luciano, an aviator from New York who fixes airplane equipment, has been a member of the Air Force since he was 19.

“This is my job. Until it is finished, I won’t come back,” said Rafael Scharron, a commandant who works with health programs. Scharron, 39, was born in Puerto Rico. He said that he is “crazy to return home,” and sent a greeting to his relatives in Puerto Rico.

The sergeant technician Juan Carlos Galvez, 34, who was born in Washington DC but raised in Guatemala, has been in the Air Force for nearly half of his life. “I have been inside for 16 years and I wouldn’t exchange the experiences, lessons and opportunities that the Air Force has given me for anything,” said Galvez, maintaining firm his pride on being a part of the Operation Iraqi Liberation.

Translated from Spanish by Jonathan Charnay

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