By Airman 1st Class Tiffany Del Oso
For generations, Hispanic Americans have served bravely in the United States Armed Forces. This National Hispanic Heritage Month, the U.S. Air Force is celebrating each and every airman’s history, culture and contributions to the branch by highlighting Hispanic Americans making a difference in the military community.
This is the story of Jose Velazquez, an airman of the U.S. Air Force’s 325th Fighter Wing who is making strides in the field of military mental health services – and how the USO stands ready to support the wellbeing of our troops.
Tech. Sgt. Jose Velazquez, a 325th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of mental health at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, is ensuring airmen with different cultural backgrounds feel heard, safe and at home.
At 10 years old, Jose moved to the United States from Mexico City, Mexico, when his father’s career provided the opportunity.
“It was tough having to leave [friends behind] because at 10 years old, right, that’s your primary focus,” said Jose. “The language barrier was probably my biggest challenge. Not only was I trying to make new friends, but I was also trying to learn a language.”
For many immigrants, the shock from being suddenly immersed in a vastly different culture can also be very intimidating.
“I expected for people to not be as inviting or kind, especially because I didn’t know the language,” explained Jose. “Everyone was always super welcoming and nice, even when I didn’t know [what they were saying] they would always try to help me. I’m very thankful for that because a lot of times when it comes to immigrants, whether they’re from Mexico or other countries, they’re not necessarily always accepted.”
Jose explained that though his transition into the U.S. came with a lot of challenges, it also opened up a lot of opportunities – including the opportunity to join the U.S. Air Force.
“I had a couple of friends that had already started the enlistment process and when they started telling me about it, I was interested [too] so I went to a recruiter to ask some more questions,” explained Jose.
Nine years later, Jose oversees an entire mental health flight in the Air Force. As the NCOIC, he manages patient care schedules, coordinates higher levels of care, deployment and PCS clearances and maintains a certification as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor.
“He’s taught me so many things that I can use as [a leader],” said Capt. Bethany Young, 325th OMRS mental health interim flight commander. “He had so much patience for me when I got here. I feel like his background made him more prepared to have that patience with me and not get really frustrated when I didn’t know things. Instead, he helped guide me through different situations without making me feel incompetent.”
Velazquez also volunteers at the local elementary schools when they ask for bilingual speakers to read to children.
“After talking to some of them, sometimes they feel super scared,” explained Velazquez. “They just don’t think they’re ever going to learn English and I know I felt that way at one point too. So being able to talk to them and mentor them I think has been one of the more rewarding things I’ve been able to do.”
How the USO Helps the Mental Wellbeing of Our Troops
Like Jose, the USO has always been committed to the mental wellbeing and morale of our service members.
That is why we built USO Warrior and Family Centers, which were designed specifically to support wounded, ill and injured service members with not only a place of respite, but also a place to spend time with each other and their loved ones. These centers, located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Bethesda, Maryland; San Antonio, Texas and Landstuhl, Germany, are located in close proximity to military medical centers such as Walter Reed Medical Facility and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, providing a retreat for service members who may be looking to get away from a traditional hospital setting during their recovery period.
Serving as a “home away from home” these USO Warrior Centers are a source of comfort for service members who are recuperating with both visible and invisible wounds, including programs that are geared towards supporting them in their recovery, such as arts and crafts classes, music lessons and workshops. These creative outlets have proven to be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety, and helpful for service members suffering from PTSD and other mental illnesses.
The recovery process for wounded service members, regardless if that wound is visible or invisible, can be a long road for both them and their families. But providing them with a place to relax and recuperate while on their road to recovery can make their journey all the better, thanks to the help of the USO.
-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited for USO.org
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Every day, America’s service members selflessly put their lives on the line to keep us safe and free. Please take a moment to let our troops know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.